My Response to Cllr John Halsall

So I finally have a copy of the Conservative leaflet for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (thanks to the generosity and sense of fair play of Cllr Halsall himself), and can thus make my response to it.

At last year’s by-election there were five candidates, and so plenty of rival literature for me to blog about. This year only the three main parties are fielding candidates, and if my suspicions that the Lib Dems are focusing their attentions and resources elsewhere are true then this could be the only leaflet (other than my own) that residents see.

So on that note, what does it say?

[Here’s a slightly lower-tech download link, if Scribd isn’t working for you, or a link to the leaflet on if you’d prefer not to download]

The first page has the usual ode to [insert local area here], which to be honest is more or less universally unobjectionable. An interesting addition is a vote of confidence from Theresa May, who “looks forward to working with him over the next four years“. I imagine she’d look forward less to working with me, but given her apparent failure to grasp elementary timekeeping, I might choose to take that as a compliment.

John is also described as “the LOCAL & EXPERIENCED choice”. Which presumably is a shot at my age. I’ll grant that he is more “experienced” than I am, but I’d dispute that age necessarily makes a better councillor. I’d counter that what the council needs is an injection of radical new ideas, that are a bit more grounded in common sense and reality than what the council has been producing lately.

Inside, we’re treated the usual (possibly obligatory?) refrain about how poor Wokingham is. This is the Tories’ first, last and only line of defence against criticism. They have to sell off the libraries/sell off social care/stealth tax residents/treat voters like mugs, because they’re the worst funded local authority in the world. I won’t take up words here dispelling that particular myth, but suffice it to say it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Moving forward, John has identified three key areas where he intends to focus his efforts if re-elected:

  • Roads and traffic: John has correctly identified parking as a problem, especially around the centre of the village. This has been a problem since before I moved to Wargrave, and boils down to two simple facts: too many cars, not enough space to park them. There isn’t a quick or easy fix to this one. Restrict parking, and whilst making residents happy you make local businesses unhappy. Leave it unrestricted, and residents have to compete with customers for parking space. This one is going to run and run.
  • Green belt and planning: John is concerned with the preservation of green-belt land around the village(s). This is a pleasant, rural area, and I imagine a lot of people would agree. I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the “build” and “don’t build” camps. I accept that there is a need for increased housing provision across the borough, but would rather not see my favourite views and walking routes paved over. Of course, what John doesn’t mention is that it’s actually the Conservative-led national government’s planning reforms that are threatening green belt land. Don’t just take it from me; that’s the opinion of the Daily Telegraph.
  • Wargrave library: I’ll admit, this made me giggle. “The Conservatives are committed to the Library service by improving the efficiency of service delivery whilst maintaining and bettering what is offered.” Oh really? Then why are you selling it off? And why, John, are you failing to address the concerns over privatisation, by offering only a bland, manufactured non-statement?

Have you noticed what’s missing though? For the last couple of months, the local press has been alive with the complaints of residents that the new waste scheme is unfit for purpose. I’ve written plenty on this, and have conversed with John himself on the matter by email. But all his leaflet has to say on the matter is that if elected he will:

Address the concerns of the new waste collection scheme

And that’s it. How, John? I’ve quite clearly laid out what I think the council should do. The scheme hasn’t just had teething problems, it has been conceptually flawed from the start. People on the doorstep are angry that this has been sprung on them and that no one is listening to their complaints. This won’t address anyone’s concerns- though I confess it’s a little better than a certain Winnersh candidate’s adamant insistence that the scheme is perfect.

As I’ve said before, I like John Halsall. He is a very nice man, and every time I have had occasion to converse with him he has been polite and a joy to talk to. Sadly, though, this election comes down to policy. I strongly suspect that John himself is displeased with the waste scheme, and the library plans, and a host of other WBC policies. But he’s been left no choice but to try to defend them.

Cllr John Halsall represents the status quo. I can’t promise that I will be able to right all the wrongs in Remenham, Wargave and Ruscombe, because I won’t. But I am the candidate for change, and a change is very definitely what is needed.


I Need a Reading Lamp

A reading lamp may be the solution I need for my reading vexations.

I’ve decided that I don’t read enough. This, as you might imagine, is a problem for a writer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing any more (I do), or that I can’t afford books (I can- and anyway I get a healthy quantity of my reading material from my local library). It’s because I don’t seem to have the time any more- or rather I don’t make the time.

So much of my day seems to be taken up with politics, work, a thousand and one trivial tasks, or the act of writing itself. Which is great- I love being so active, and I love that I still find plenty of time to write. But as a great man* once said:

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Which means I have a problem, even if I’m not feeling the effects just yet. So I’ve decided to “schedule” some reading time. Which sounds grander than it actually is. Basically, instead of falling asleep watching a film or TV show, I’ll fall asleep with a book (or my Kindle).

There’s something nice about this. I think it goes back to when I was very young, and my parents used to read to me at bedtime. More times than not, I would fall asleep before they finished, and lose myself in whatever fantastical worlds I was frequenting. Even today it’s a warm and safe feeling. Although a little annoying when I reach the point of reading the same sentence over and over before I realise it’s time to call it a night.

The only problem with this plan is to do with lighting. My lightswitch is next to the door- across the other side of my room. So when I’m tired, ready for sleep, I have to put down my book (or Kindle), get out of bed, cross the room and turn it off. Not exactly the most relaxing end to an evening. Conclusion: I need a reading lamp.

*Mr Stephen King

The Word on the Street

So this weekend was spent on the campaign trail. It was almost a relief to, after spending a couple of weeks working hard online and in the papers, get out and start talking to people. After all, that’s what I’ve been intending to do from the start.

Truth be told, it was all very encouraging. I was fearful that I wasn’t going to receive a terribly friendly reception, this being Berkshire at it’s truest, bluest Tory. But actually, the more I spoke to people, the more receptive they were to what I had to say. Not that there weren’t some displays of staggering rudeness, but I’m counting only one door slammed in my face to be a win.

Proving me wrong, both the Tory and Lib Dem candidates were out canvassing on Saturday. I really didn’t expect it, but actually I don’t think it did me much harm. I covered Highfield Park in the morning, and then moved onto Victoria Road in the afternoon/evening, which meant that I hit it after both of the others had already done so. A lot of people were confused by the wildly differing accounts of the two, so were looking to me as the moderate, sensible alternative.

The lines the other two have taken seem broadly concurrent with what I’d expect. John Halsall is pretending none of the issues exist (with a particularly fine argumentative line blaming Cllr Stretton’s resignation on her having elderly parents, rather than her own political aspirations). The Lib Dem guy, on the other hand, is doing what Lib Dems do best: complaining in a shrill voice about everything that anyone mentions. They’ve been dropping particularly drab “letters” through doors. I thought my leaflet was fairly minimalist, but this looks like the kind of letter you’d get from a bank, explaining changes in interest rates.

The things people were concerned about fall, broadly, under a number of headings:

  • The Library- there’s a lot of love in Wargrave for what Ros Fernley, down at the library, does. And there’s a lot of concern about the privatisation plans. And John Halsall’s denial that anything is going on was blown clean out of the water by the Daily Express article claiming that LSSI are due to take over in May.
  • Litter – This comes under rubbish and general littering. Curiously, a newsletter from Wokingham Borough Council came through doors yesterday, neglecting to make any mention of the 80 bags per year limit. Now, this could be because the Council have been persuaded by opposition to it. Or they could be trying to pretend it isn’t happening, like with the library. My money is on the second. And there’s still a load of rubbish left at the junction of Purfield Drive and Blakes Road by contractors resurfacing the road. It’s been there for the better part of a month. Just saying.
  • Fuel hikes – Not a local issue, but still a bugbear for a lot of people. An 18% hike by British Gas is unacceptable, and will result in people encountering severe difficulties this winter. Something needs to be done.
  • “I’ll be voting for you, because all the others are bastards!” – Am I allowed to say that? Someone genuinely did say that to me, so really it’s a quote. Not my words. I do agree though (well I would, wouldn’t I?).

Reassuringly, one of the positives people have most commented on is the fact that I’m actually going door to door talking to people. Sure, some don’t want to hear it. Sure, sometimes I’ve been met with rudeness or hostility. But most people, even if they don’t support or intend to vote for me, appreciate the effort. Which is nice. Which is very nice.

And this is only the start. I feel like I’ve walked miles, but there’s still much to do. And that means more folding leaflets. Who said politics was glamorous?

A Response to John Halsall

Whilst Conservative candidate John Halsall shrugs off the issue and pretends there is nothing to talk about, Matthew S. Dent has been vocally and tirelessly campaigning against the privatisation of local library services

I mentioned yesterday that, whilst I was away this weekend, the Conservatives had been out leafleting. I don’t know the extent of the area they’ve covered, but since the Tories have more manpower and funds than we do, I’d imagine they’ve covered all of the ward by now. I’d also be surprised if they feel the need to go out again, unless my door-knocking starts to get some serious traction. Which, of course, is what I’m aiming for.

But the purpose of this post, coming so hot on the heels of yesterday’s, is that I have now read the leaflet of Conservative candidate John Halsall, and I feel that there are some responses that need to be made.

Firstly, there is absolutely no mention of the circumstances of the by-election. This isn’t surprising from an electoral point of view, as the fact that their previous councillor resigned four days after an election, costing the local taxpayer an extra (and unnecessary) £9,000 for a by-election, does make Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe Conservatives look rather bad. But there’s no attempt to disown the Councillor Stretton and her decision, which given Cllr Baker’s previous assertions, I would have expected. And there’s no apology for the massive expense, which really confirms what I’ve said all along: the Tories just don’t care.

But beyond that, Mr Halsall makes several comments regarding the library. Specifically, the leaflet says “John is disappointed that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have totally misinformed the electorate about the future of Libraries in the Borough. Furthermore they are getting residents to sign a petition against something which has not been agreed. Next time any one from these parties knock on your door simply ask them to prove their allegations. They will not be able to!

Ten points for effort, John, but I’m afraid you’re wrong on a number of counts. Firstly, I haven’t misled anyone. Whilst strictly speaking, the privatisation hasn’t yet been agreed- it’s still in the stage of being put out to tender- the tendering process has now closed, and the Council is considering the offers. No official announcement has been yet made as to the  result of the process, but there was an interesting article on library privatisation in the Daily Express recently. It’s a long article, but I’ll quote the specific passage I mean:

LSSI [an American libraries services company, which has a spotted record over in the US] has spoken to “dozens of local authorities” over the past three years and held meetings with five councils last week, with Croydon becoming the latest borough to consider a deal. LSSI’s first contract is expected to start next May in Wokingham.

Now, this isn’t anything definitive, but it seems pretty damning. This isn’t in some small local newspaper, or the online blog of some annonymous nobody. This is in a major national newspaper, the Daily Express. It seems like a leak to me, whether from the Council (unlikely; they’re trying to bury this as deeply as they can since the news broke and caused a massive outrage amongst residents), or from LSSI themselves. It certainly seems to disagree with Mr Halsall’s claim that the privatisation isn’t happening.

There is, perhaps, a slight qualifier later on: “‘…if elected I will join Bob [Pitts, the other Tory councillor for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe] in making sure that a Library provision continues.’” Note the a. He doesn’t make any assurances that the standard we’re used to will continue, and how can he? If the service is privatised, and doesn’t earn enough profit, smaller libraries such as Wargrave’s and Twyford’s would likely close down, whilst allowing Mr Halsall to claim that indeed a service does exist, even if it means residents must travel as far as Woodley.

It doesn’t seem Mr Halsall himself is terribly active online, but if he or anyone else from Wokingham or Maidenhead Conservative Associations (or anyone else, for that matter) would like to respond to what I’ve said here, I welcome your doing so in the comments section below.

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, 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.