Matthew S. Dent

Story in Aphelion!


aphelion

It’s been a while since I posted one of these, I hasn’t it? But yes, a story of mine has been accepted by and published in Aphelion Webzine!

“The Interview” is a very short piece, which I wrote in the depths of a seemingly endless and futile job hunt. The number of interviews I attended, and the number of frankly bizarre questions I was asked and tasks I was set were the genesis for this story.

I’m quite very proud of its success, as I think it will be relatable to many more people than just myself. The insanity of trying to find employment is a sadly widespread experience at the moment.

Plus, one of the best things about it being published by Aphelion is that you can read it for FREE on their website. And once you have, they have an excellent forum where you can share your thoughts and read the thoughts of other readers.

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Tories and Libraries


The local Conservatives have axed the money put aside for Twyford's new library without a second thought. What do you think they'll do when privatising Wargrave's library?

Last November, when a popular petition forced Wokingham Borough Council to debate the planned privatisation (or “outsourcing” if you prefer, Cllr Keith Baker) of the libraries, we were assured by Cllr UllaKarin Clark that she and her fellow Conservatives cared deeply for the borough’s libraries. My opponent tomorrow in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, Cllr John Halsall, has said in his election literature that “The Conservatives are commited to the Library service…

But actions always speak louder than words, and on the libraries the Tories’ actions expose and drown out their misleading rhetoric.

From the shambolic performance in the aforementioned debate, where Tory councillor after Tory councillor stood up to lambast and insult the poor foolish people who had signed the petition, to the present situation it has been clear that they don’t care about the library service. They talk the talk when it comes to elections, but between them they utterly fail to walk the walk.

The plans to sell off the libraries was introduced last year, a few days after local elections. There was no discussion of them in election debates, and there was no consultation with the public. It was decided in secret and behind closed doors that they would open for tendering, and then they could complain that their hands were tied and they couldn’t talk about it whilst offers were being made- conveniently forgetting to mention that it could have been discussed before.

And now, as we approach another election, the council have quietly axed £1.3m that was earmarked for a new library in Twyford. At the moment, Twyford library is in a port-a-cabin, and has been for years. The plan, once upon a time, was to put a new library in the unit which the council ended up leasing to Tesco instead. This spectacularly ill-judged decision left to what is probably the best piece of vandalism I’ve ever heard about (and which I in no way endorse, support or excuse).

Finding an alternative venue would have been a pain, but not unachievable. But without the money that had been put aside for it, the dreams of a new library have gotten a lot more distant.

I know this is outside of my patch- though not by much- but my point is this: if the Tories can gleefully axe longstanding plans for a new Twyford library, what will they be prepared to do with Wargrave’s? We’ve been promised that our libraries will be safe under the privatisation plan, but bearing in mind that we heard nothing about it until after the last elections I’m wondering what nasty surprises are going to appear when the tendering process is complete.

Whoever you’re planning on voting for tomorrow, remember this: you won’t get another chance to vote for your local representatives until 2014 at the earliest. By then it will be too late, and whatever plans the Conservatives are keeping under their hats will already be in place. Everyone is pledging to protect the libraries, but there is one party you cannot trust to put the good of the library service ahead of  base profit: the Tories.

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.

T Minus One Week


Only a week left, until the polling stations open for voters.

This time next week, the polls will be open and ballot papers will be being filled out. Candidates and activists will be scurrying around, and voters will be wandering to their polling station. So as the home stretch looms before us, I thought I’d lay out a few points that have become clear through the campaign.

  • God hates canvassers. This might seem trite, but the weather has been almost singularly appalling. I’ve lost count of the number of leaflet drops and door knocking sessions that have been conducted in the rain. I’ve already blogged about this, but it’s left the whole campaign feeling a bit…soggy. Not to mention leaving me scornful of any concept of “drought”.
  • Some people think that rubbish collection is not an issue. Others disagree. I’m clearly in the latter camp, to avoid any doubt. Actually, most of the people I’ve encountered who think discussion of the bins is a silly issue have been the smaller households. For the most part larger households (three, four people) and those with children have been giving the same complaint: the 80 bags provided simply aren’t enough to last a year.
  • The local issue is king. I’m actually really pleased about this. Whilst there are numerous complaints about the cuts or the NHS reforms, and the occasional “It’s all Labour’s fault!“, most people have wanted to talk about local problems. Whether this is the bins, the libraries, the toilets, the schools or the parking, people want to talk about the things they think need improving- and it’s nice not to have to say “I’m sorry, that’s not something the council can change“.
  • People want a change. By and large, people are not happy with the status quo. That’s not to say that they’re flocking to my banner yet, but they are certainly sceptical of the lines being fed to them by the Conservatives. Neither nationally nor locally do the Tories exude an air of confidence, and the smell of uncertainty is beginning to foul into a stench of incompetence. Whether or not I can convince people of the change I can offer is another matter, though.
  • Mark Ashwell’s use of Twitter confuses more people than it impresses. The Tory candidate for Winnersh is something of a political curiousity, but his Twitter account has me stumped. I’m afraid when I can understand what he’s saying he seems hopelessly naive and bland, and that comprehension is a rarity. It’s even spawned an equally bizarre anti- account. And now he seems to be blocking anyone who questions him (not even disagrees- questions). Sad, undemocratic, and actually showing that he would fit in well with the council administration:
  • People don’t trust politics. Regardless of what colour rosette you’re wearing, the fact is that people aren’t quick to believe what anyone asking for their vote says. You can argue as to where the blame for this lies (Labour: “You crashed the economy!”; the Tories “You were supposed to fix the economy, not sell off the NHS!”; or the Lib Dems “Tuition fees”.) but the truth is the truth. I’ve been very careful not to promise things I can’t deliver: I know Labour cannot win a majority and take control of the council. But I’ve laid out what I stand for and what I will work towards, and I’d resign before abandoning those principles.

So there’s seven days left to campaign, which is plenty of time to win hearts and minds. If you want to get in touch with me, then please leave a comment below (or use the contact form if you’d prefer privacy) and I’d be happy to discuss any issue you like.

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

A Note on Polite Politics


Politics should be about policy, not personality.

It seems a simple enough idea, and if you asked most people directly I’m pretty sure most would agree. But sadly, it seems far too easy for personality to take centre stage, and political debate to dissolve into playground-style name-calling. Style-over-substance politics seems to have been with us for a while, but the last general election exemplifies it.

Witness the (nominal) victor, Mr David Cameron. Undeniably slicker than any of his opponents, he was excellent with PR. But now, as Prime Minister, he has to walk the walk not just talk the talk. And the shambles of his time in government speaks volumes as to that.

I think the same principle holds in local government. By and large, despite sensationalist headlines in the Daily Mail about fat cat councillors, I don’t believe anyone gets involved in local politics for their own enrichment. My motivations are purely that I disagree with how Wokingham is being run, and I want to do my bit to make it a better place. I would be extraordinarily surprised if the same wasn’t true of my Lib Dem opponent Martin Alder. And whilst I wouldn’t want to brand him with the first part of that statement to him, I’m sure the second part holds true of the Conservative incumbent John Halsall.

I’ve never actually met Martin, and honestly given the silence from him and his party in this campaign I don’t anticipate I will cross blades with him in any significant way. But John I have met and interacted with, and I can tell you here and now that he is a very nice man.

That should not be misconstrued. I disagree fundamentally with his policies, his politics and his ideology. But to take a footballing metaphor, I believe we should always aim to play the ball and not the man.

I can’t read minds, so I don’t know how far he agrees with the council, but I suspect and sympathise that sometimes he will be left defending policies he feels are flawed. I do maintain that he is doing his utmost to make Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe a better place as he sees it. He isn’t bad, he’s just wrong.

As an example, I present an email that appeared in my inbox last night. I had earlier posted a blog in which I asked anyone with a copy of John’s leaflet to send me a picture. When I opened the email, I was confronted with this:

Dear Matthew

Please find enclosed as requested

kind regards

John Halsall

Yes, he had emailed me a PDF copy of his own leaflet. Bravo, sir. I’ve read through it, and there is plenty for me to disagree with, argue with and dispute in it (and I will, in a blog later this evening). But he was more than happy to share it with me, to widen the scope of debate when he could easily have just left me in the dark.

Whilst I do not and can not agree with the policies he espouses, I have a great deal of respect for the man himself. If there were more men like him in the Wokingham Conservative Party, men willing to encourage open debate of policy and issue, then our local politics would be a more vibrant and engaging scene.

Rain Stopped Play


Campaigning in the rain: not fun, but sometimes necessary.

The last few days have been a bit glum, campaigning wise. The rain, whilst good for drought-dried aquifers and budding allotments, is not really a door-knocking candidate’s best friend.

I’ve done campaigning in the rain before, and can tell you that it’s a pretty miserable experience. True, you do sometimes get the pitying resident who perhaps has more time to hear what you have to say because the effort you’re making is more obvious. But on the whole, you just end up wet, miserable and a little dejected.

I’ve already leafleted most of Wargrave now, and was planning to get stuck into the Ruscombe area of the ward this week. Given the weather, and my asthma annoyingly flaring up after a few months’ abeyance, I’ve decided to take a more cautious approach. Rest assured, Ruscombe residents, I will get to you. And in the meantime, you can read my leaflet here.

Of the competition: there is a Tory leaflet going around Wargrave at least. I’m not sure how far it’s propagated, certainly not as far as me, but it does exist. If any kind Wargrave resident wants to provide me with pictures, I’d be much obliged.

On the yellow side of things, I’ve seen absolutely nothing from Martin Alder. It’s a little disappointing really, since he put out three leaflets in last summer’s by-election. It’s pure speculation, but I guess that the Lib Dems might be struggling for resources at the moment, and with three councillors standing down have decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Weather has an impact on election results beyond just it’s effect on campaigning. Bad weather will dissuade many from going out to vote, reducing the turnout and potentially drastically distorting the vote. This tends to be unpredictable as to who it advantages- though certainly not representative democracy- but usually those incensed through anger or high passion will be the ones who make the effort.

On the one hand, this is a fairly solidly Conservative ward. On the other, the Tories have done their darnedest to annoy people. At this stage, I’m not even going to try and call it. But if the rain keeps up I may be forced to done the waterproof, take up the umbrella, and hit the campaign trail once more.

But at least it’s good for the potatoes!

Abominations Magazine #1 Published


The debut issue of Abomination Magazine

My writing doesn’t seem to be going all that badly of late, which besides being nice for me makes a nice break from politics-themed blogs.

Anyway, I announced last month that Abomination Magazine had accepted one of my stories for their debut issue, and today I can tell you that said issue has been published. It is currently available for Kindle at the frankly bargain price of £1.30. And for that you get a selection of other delectable stories.

My own offering is entitled “Whispers in the Skin Gardens“, and without giving too much away it’s a dark SF story, about biotech gone slightly mad.

If you buy and read it (which, of course, you should) I would love it if you’d let me know what you think. And if you want to put a review on Amazon, that’d be great too.

But above all, please enjoy. And don’t have nightmares.

Hitting the Campaign Trail


We’re less than three weeks away from polling day, and this morning I started on the campaign trail proper. Across the village of Wargrave, my election leaflet is going out through letterboxes to reach the residents and voters for whose support I am appealing on May 3rd.

And since I have placed a not-inconsiderable emphasis on the internet and digital campaigning, I would be amiss if I did not make that literature available online. So here it is, in downloadable PDF form for any who are interested:

[UPDATE: It seems that scribd isn’t working too well for everyone at the moment. Since this is way past the extent of my technical skills, I’m going to compromise. You can find the PDF hosted directly here, instead.]

I’ve also put it up on ElectionLeaflets.org, as I did for the by-election last year. Neither Messrs Halsall or Alder have yet put anything up there, and I haven’t seen any literature from them either. It’s entirely possible that I’ll be skipped by their deliverers, but if any Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe residents have received Lib Dem or Tory leaflets and feel like sharing them with me… Well, I’d be very grateful!

Matthew S. Dent for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe


Matthew S. Dent, Labour and Co-Op candidate for Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

With nominations closed, all of the forms in, and the full list of candidates to be officially announced next week, I think this is as good a time as any to make my own announcement: I am standing on May 3rd as the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe.

This has been something of a given for a long while now, but my nomination forms went in last Wednesday without hiccough, and so pending Tuesday’s announcement everything will be official.

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting leaflets through letterboxes, and talking to people all across the ward about the issues they are concerned about, and what I can offer them if elected. The advantage of being involved in local politics all year round, not only at election time, is that I’m already familiar with most of the issues.

On a national level, the economy is still in the doldrums and the Conservative-led economic strategy seems only to be making things worse. There is a real risk that we will shortly be back in recession- officially; many households will testify that the struggles they face day to day already speak of recession- and what are the government focusing on? Taxing pasties; taxing pensioners; snooping in our emails; shutting down transparency; cutting tax for millionaires; ending child tax credits for ordinary working families and a whole load of other unhelpful and regressive measures.

One thing is becoming very clear- we are not all in this together.

But this is a local election, and whilst the national picture cannot be discounted or ignored I want residents to cast their votes based on local issues. So here is an overview of some of the issues I will be campaigning on:

  • Bin collection: the new scheme has proved disastrous. The scheme is a stealth tax on residents, and even central government has serious concerns that the council have no legal basis for doing this. Residents are in uproar, and the councillors who implemented this scheme are nowhere to be seen. My view on this is simple. We are calling for three things: firstly, the scheme should be suspended immediately; secondly, there should be an inquiry into what has gone wrong with the scheme, particularly the problems besetting the launch; thirdly, the consultation with residents that the council didn’t think was necessary should be conducted, and no new scheme introduced without public approval.
  • Libraries: the plan to privatise libraries across the borough was central to my campaign in the July by-election, and since then it has dropped off the agenda a little. I am not happy about this; the council dismissed residents concerns when a petition triggered a debate, and have done nothing to mitigate the damage that I believe this plan will cause. Privatising libraries will lead to corners being cut in the pursuit of profit, and our currently great libraries will be at risk of decline. The decision is due to be made in May, so this is a vital issue on the doorsteps.
  • Real democracy: At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents. Time and again, they do exactly what they want with concern neither for the views of voters or whether it is a good idea. There is little to no debate, and a sense of aloof disdain for disagreement. They have even admitted that they don’t think they need to listen to residents. I believe that the way to solve this is by putting different voices, of different parties, on the council. If elected I will make holding the council to account my primary business, and pushing for better policies for the borough.

I will be expanding on and adding to these points as the election grows closer, and as I receive more feedback from residents on the doorstep. If you live in the ward and want to get in touch with me, I welcome any and all contact, and you can do so by:

Or simply wait until I knock on your door.