Liberal Democrat

Buying the election: the cost of votes in South East Essex


Some interesting numbers in yesterday’s Southend Echo, pertaining to the spending of each of the parliamentary candidates in the recent elections.

Given that all candidates have to file election expenses by law, it makes for quite an interesting look at how each campaign was financed. The accompanying article in the Echo highlighted concerns about the Conservatives buying the election, and having seen the eye-watering numbers they spent across the whole of south Essex, there’s some cause and justification I think.

So letting out my inner stats wonk, I decided to have a look at how each candidate’s expenditure stacked up compared to the votes they won, in the three south east Essex seats.

Read on…


Lib Dems Getting Nervous?

Does Liberal Democrat bravado about two-horse races mask a deeper fear, that I might be about to challenge their position?

One more day to go, and I’m starting to feel a little pinch of nervousness in my stomach. It seems silly, given the unlikeliness of me winning. But I’m wondering if the Lib Dems aren’t starting to get a little worried.

I’m the first Labour candidate in a long while to actually campaign this ward. The first non-paper candidate in a while. Previously the ward has been a safe Tory seat, with the Lib Dems in clear second place and no one else in sight. This is something that the Lib Dems seem oddly proud of, though as I say since no Labour candidate has properly campaigned here before it isn’t exactly a fair measure.

But for the last few weeks I’ve been working the pavement hard. I’m at a disadvantage from the start, really, since I have less money to throw into a campaign, and a smaller pool of volunteers to draw from (though the local party members have risen admirably to my aid, and I’m proud to count myself amongst their number). So I’ve only been able to produce one leaflet, and have had to (largely) distribute it myself.

The Tories seem only to feel the need to put out one leaflet, and honestly when one looks at the electoral history of the ward, it seems understandable. The interesting thing, however, is the Lib Dems. On the face of it, they’ve put out three leaflets: one a few weeks before the date of the by-election was announced, another around the same time as I started canvassing, and then a third last night. Except, in reality, they seem to be the self-same leaflet.

They’ve moved things around, changed fonts, changed the format. But at its core, it contains largely the same information. There seems to be no new revelation which prompts another sheet, other than to maintain some sort of endless barrage. And I do wish that their canvassers would actually put leaflets all the way through letterboxes, and not leave them hanging halfway out. I suspect a lot of local residents would agree with me there.

But having damned them for putting out the same leaflet three times, there are a few minor changes, and I think they’re very telling. Firstly, the latest leaflet has a section about the reasons behind the by-election. This is on the front of my leaflet, and has been my primary line of attack against the Tories. Cllr Stretton resigned in a manner which showed utter disrespect for the people who voted for her, and showed she was thinking almost solely about her own political career. And yet this is the first I’ve seen from the Lib Dems mentioning. Maybe I’m gaining some traction with it. Maybe they’re worried they’re loosing ground on it.

Secondly, there’s a slight change in their “two-horse race” spiel. It featured on their last leaflet, saying:

Lib Dems v Conseravtives – that’s the political battle in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe and across the Wokingham Borough. The Conservatives control the council and the Lib Dems are the only opposition; there are no councillors from any other party, nor any independent councillors.

The latest leaflet says:

The Conservatives run the council. The Liberal Democrats are the only opposition and there are no other councillors. In Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe Labour have come bottom in the last 3 local elections, averaging less than 5% of the vote.

Notice the change of tack from a general attack on the chances of other parties, to a specific attack on my chances as Labour candidate? Interesting, isn’t it. In the previous leaflet, they were confident of their status as the only opposition. Now they seem to feel threatened by my campaign.

Everything they say is true. Labour have come bottom the last three times, with around 5% of the vote. But as I said above, there was no real campaign. And as for this two-horse race, is that all residents want? The Lib Dems, like the Tories, seem to discount the fact that such positions are only decided by the voters. Of course Labour can win here. All it takes is for people to go out tomorrow and vote for me.

This, I think, is what the Liberal Democrats are realising. I think they’re noticing a new challenger, who might be able to take up ground they have systematically failed to. I think they’re getting a bit worried.


Introducing the Labour Candidate for the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe By-Election…

I will be the Labour Party candidate for the by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward, on 21st July 2011

…Yours truly.

Yes, I am standing in the by-election on 21st July 2011, as the Labour candidate. The nomination forms were delivered to the returning officer this morning, and at noon the deadline passed. So it’s now official.

My campaign will centre on two things; the reason for the by-election, and the plans by Wokingham Borough Council to privatise the library service. I have previously made my feelings known in relation to the library, and you are welcome to read them on this blog, so I will focus on the first of these issues now.

The by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward comes as a result of the resignation of Claire Stretton, one of two Conservative councillors representing the ward. Thusfar nothing particularly unusual. However, the reason for her resignation was that she had four days previously won a seat at Boyn Hill ward, in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. As she was now a councillor on a different council, she resigned her seat on Wokingham.

She could have resigned in the run up to the May local elections, rather than afterwards. If that had happened, then the by-election could have been run on the same day as the local elections, and the AV referendum. There was, as things were, no election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe on May 6th. However, there was the referendum. So the polling stations were open, and facilities in place for a ballot to be held.

Because Councillor Stretton did not do this, a separate by-election must be held. It has been estimated that this will cost the Borough an extra £9,000 (Henley Standard, 31st May 2011). And who fundamentally picks up this bill? The local taxpayer.

In a time of deep cuts and austerity for the people of Wokingham Borough, and of the country generally, a Conservative councillor has caused residents a large expense for no reason other than her own political gain. Councillor Stretton had one year left of her term- but if she had simply stood down at the election next year, she would have had to wait another three years before she could stand in Maidenhead. Her decision to resign afterwards cannot be seen as anything but a cynical ploy to ensure that she would remain a councillor regardless.

This shows a staggering arrogance, and to my mind demonstrates just how much the Conservatives take so-called “safe seats”, and the people living in them, for granted. Councillor Stretton did not think about the people she was supposed to be representing, she only thought about her own political career.

As Labour candidate in this election, I want to offer the people of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe a choice. I will be a councillor who will fight for the issues residents care about. I want to give people an alternative to always voting for a Conservative Party which isn’t interested in them, or a Liberal Democrat party which cannot be trusted.

In the next few weeks, leading up to the date of the by-election, I will be campaigning across the ward. I will be speaking to residents, letting them know the ideals and principles I stand for, and listening to what they care about. If anyone wishes to contact me, to ask questions, to let me know their thoughts and feelings, or simply to offer their support, they may do so on this blog, by emailing me at, or by writing to me at 3 Newalls Rise, Wargrave.

I pledge to always listen to, read and  respond to any correspondence I receive.

The (Tory)pion and the Fox [Political Flash Fiction]

The (Tory)pion and the Fox

By Matthew S. Dent

The Scorpion (right) and the Fox (left)

There is an ancient fable, told as a warning against excessive foolishness or trust. It tells that there was once a Liberal Democrat fox, called Nick, who lived on the opposition bank, of the river Parliament. One day he heard someone calling his name.

Turning around, he saw a gathering of Tory scorpions. ‘Nick,’ they said. ‘Nick, please help us.’

‘Help you?’ he asked, suspicious. All foxes knew that scorpions were not to be trusted- especially Tory scorpions.

‘We need to get to the other side of the river,’ the lead scorpion, called Dave, explained. ‘We need to get to the government bank, but there aren’t enough of us to get across.’

Nick looked over at the other bank. It was green and fertile, with food a plenty, and many comfortable places to sleep in the sun. Although he had always lived on the opposition bank, he had never stopped dreaming of one day making it to the government bank.

‘But I’m just a fox,’ he said. ‘There are too many obstacles. I could never manage to land on the other side.’

‘We’ll help you,’ one of the scorpions, George, whispered to him. ‘If you take us across, we will let you stay.’

Nick considered this carefully. It was very tempting. No fox had set foot on the government bank in almost a hundred years. But he was still suspicious.

‘You’re scorpions,’ he said. ‘And Tories. Everyone knows what you’re like. You’ll sting me. and cut public services, lower taxes for the rich and neglect the poor.’

‘No!’ Dave said, with a chuckle. ‘Why would we do that? We haven’t been on the other bank for thirteen years, because we did that. If we did it again, we’d drown too. Why would we do that?’

Nick thought on this long and hard. He considered it for several days, talking to the other animals, while the Tory scorpions grew impatient. Eventually he returned to them with the other foxes, to give them an answer.

‘Alright,’ he said. ‘We’ll carry you across on our backs. But we want our pick of the best sleeping spots on the other side.’

‘Certainly!’ Dave agreed, delighted.

So the foxes began swimming across the river, with the Tory scorpions on their backs. The water was cold, and turgid. It took all of the foxes’ efforts to get across. But as they drew away from the opposition bank, and towards the government bank, the scorpions stung the foxes, on whose backs they rode.

‘But why?’ Nick asked. The Tories were slashing public spending, raising VAT, continuing Trident, cancelling essential economic projects, politicising the police and destroying the education system.

As the water over his mouth and nose, he pleaded, ‘Why? You’ve drowned yourself too.’

Next to him, Vince Cable was sinking fast, as George stung him again and again.

‘Why?’ Dave laughed. ‘I’m a Tory. It’s in my nature.’

Is it an ancient fable? Perhaps not. But it might be one day. Wake up, Nick.

The Doom of Our Time

So, it’s happened. Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Right Honourable George Osborne (MP for Tatton), has stood at the dispatch box, and delivered his “emergency budget”. And despite some speculation in the press, pretty much everything that was feared has come to pass.

Now, I know there are a lot of blogs on the budget already going up on the internet, and I’m going to endeavour to make sure this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the proposals. It won’t be a politically neutral one (anyone who knows me, will know that political neutrality is not one of my strong suits), but it won’t be indiscriminately critical. Because it isn’t entirely bad. There were gestures made, concessions given.

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is a good thing. The banks taxis a good thing. The declaration that we won’t join the Euro is a good thing (though puzzlingly unnecessary, since I don’t think anyone was seriously proposing joining). But what was given with one hand, has been taken away with the other. The Child Tax Credit expansion is countermanded by the child benefit freeze. The banks tax was countered by the cut in corporation tax which they will enjoy. And as I’ve already said, the Euro declaration was fairly meaningless on a grander scale.

But the worst part is the VAT hike. David Cameron has been widely quoted today and in the previous few days, and I think I’ll jump on that particular bandwagon right now: “[VAT is] very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you.” He was right. It does, and it will. The 2.5% rise will raise further revenue to cut the deficit, but at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society. A fair trade? Apparently it is, if you’re a Tory.

Or a Lib Dem, for that matter. Throughout the delivery of his budget, Osborne was flanked by Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, his Liberal Democrat scapegoats, and as Alistair Campbell said, they looked like nodding dogs- even despite looking slightly sick at the VAT announcement. The fact is, that this is their budget. They have supported it, and allowed it to happen, despite the fact that they specifically campaigned against a Tory VAT hike. How short the yellow memory is.

The fact is, that cuts are necessary. The deficit does need to be cut down. There is a reason that we have it, and that reason is that we spent ourselves into debt to get ourselves out of recession. But that sacrifice will be rendered meaningless if overzealous cutting takes us right back into economic decline. Cuts must be counterbalanced with the growth of the economy, today downgraded from previous estimates in the wake of this new budget. Cuts will increase unemployment, which will lower tax income, and thus make the whole damn mess a whole lot worse.

The real travesty of this budget to me, is that it was lauded as a “fair” budget. Everyone would share the pain. We were all in this together. It was awfully hard to take all of that seriously, when the budget was delivered by a government front bench crammed with millionaires, whom these new austerity measures won’t scratch. I will bear the burden of these measures, when I can’t find a job after university. Poor families will bear the burden of these measures, with less of the vital benefits they need, whilst being forced to pay more for everything due to the VAT hike. George Osborne has taken a 5% pay cut, that amounts to his pocket change. That is not fair, and that is not evenly shared pain.

But hey, cider duty has been cut, so everyone can get drunk to celebrate not being able to afford anything else any more.

(The full text of the budget is available on the HM Treasury Website)