Westborough Tory candidate’s disregard for data protection

dazzling daryl

Regular readers will know how much I enjoy the leaflets of Westborough Conservatives’ comedy candidate, Daryl Peagram. They have consistently provided the very best in paranoid ravings and Cold War-esque McCarthyist nonsense. So the news that he has embraced Twitter is music to my ears.

We’ve had a continuation of the same incoherent ramblings, including apparent Labour plans to build flats on all the green spaces in Westborough (If you asked “What green spaces?”, then you’ve got the gist -Ed) and threats to reveal a Lib Dem candidate’s family-unfriendly indiscretion.

But by far the most interesting thing is his new petition, where he calls on the council to scarp non-existent projects in order to compulsorily purchase private land in Westborough to make “micro-parks” and hire park rangers to keep an eye on them (Micro-parks being at great risk of micro-bears, of course -Ed). I’ve no problem with Daryl starting mad petitions (The internet being full of them anyhow -Ed), but I do have a slight issue with his blatant disregard of data protection in regard to the responses.

Read on…

A Pot to Piss In

The boarded-up toilet block in Twyford, and the sign pinned to the door.

The elections are over, but the problems assailing Wokingham borough are still here. Despite the fact that local Tory leader Cllr Lee reckons that the results were terribly unfair on his party, they are still in control and their unpopular, controversial and unworkable policies roll on unhestitatingly.

And we’re still resisting them.

Case in point, the closure of public toilets across the borough. Despite the problems raised, despite the objections from the elderly, the disabled, those with children, the council remain convinced that the local loos scheme is an adequate replacement for the closed public toilets blocks.

We, the local Labour party, have raised in conjunction with other local community groups a petition against the policy, calling for the council to reconsider. Attention has largely been focused, so far, on Wokingham town centre and Woodley. But recently the prospects for public conveniences in those places have increased: Woodley Town Council have their eye on money from development to re-open the toilets, and certain executive council members have been hinting that the Wokingham town centre regeneration will include new toilets.

So with these developments, the petition appears to have more significant for other areas of the borough: for Winnersh,  Finchampstead, and Earley- and the northern parishes. Twyford and Wargrave, which I consider “my patch”, also have closed-down toilet blocks. They sit, boarded-up and half-derelict, whilst an inadequate agreement with local businesses replaces them.

The petition has crossed the requisite number of signatures, and will be presented to the council at its meeting next Thursday (24th), and will trigger a debate at the meeting on 19th July. It will be interesting to see whether this follows the pattern of the previous debate, on library privatisation, where the Conservatives were disdainful and dismissive of the signatories. I don’t suppose they will change their minds, but at least they won’t be able to ignore it.

I fully expect that Cllr Lee’s favourite excuse will make an appearance. It’s already seen an outing this week in the Twyford Advertiser, which referred to “Cllr Lee’s cash-strapped council“. I’ve already laid out how Wokingham’s “worst-funded” status is more than mitigated by its high council tax take. And the idea that we are too poor to provide public toilets is patent lunacy.

I will be there in the public gallery of the council chambers both on Thursday, to see the presentation of the petition, and in July, for the debate. I would urge any residents who have become disillusioned and sceptical of the Tories’ methods and attitudes to join me there. You never know, we may even force them to deal with Wokingham’s problems, rather than simply insult its people.

UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that, in much the same manner as their Woodley counterpart, Winnersh Parish Council are planning to build a public toilet. The difference here is that Winnersh is doing it out of its own budget. So it seems that the the slack left by the borough council’s cost-cutting abdication of responsibility is being taken up further down the chain at the parish council level. Wonderful.

Words in Wargrave

This humble building (Wargrave Library) houses a vital element of local community life, and is under direct threat from the local council.

I love libraries. I think it’s probably a by-product of my love of books. The primary school I went to was  next door to the village library, and as soon as I could read, I used to love going in after school and picking out a book to read. There’s something beautiful about the concept; enough books to keep you fascinated and entertained forever. Books on all manner of subjects, you can literally learn anything you like in a library.

So it should be no surprise that, having gotten back to Wargrave yesterday afternoon, one of the first things I did today was get myself down to Wargrave Library. I joined a few years ago, when I moved to the area, but being at university for the past three years, I hadn’t used it in a while, and couldn’t for the life of me find my library card. Fortunately, the lovely staff helped me out by providing me with a replacement, and I’m now sat reading a lovely copy of “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard.

The reason that I bring this up, is because library services are currently under threat. With central government piling cuts onto its local counterpart, library services are at risk the country over. In many places libraries are facing closure, in an effort (hugely misguided, in my opinion) to save money. That is not happening in Wokingham Borough. Instead, they are resorting to traditional Tory fare, and handing the whole lot over to the private sector.

The party line is that this will save jobs and services, preventing the council from having to resort to harmful closures. Except, I’m not so sure. Granted, I’m an ardent critic of the Tories, but I think there are some distinct flaws with this idea.

Firstly, and most obviously, privatisation means that profit will automatically take precedence over any concept of duty or public service. In a small village like Wargrave, the local library provides a central focal point for the community. As I learnt last night, at a fantastic Wargrave Words event for Wargrave festival (featuring fascinating talks from crime authors Sophie Hannah and Simon Brett), there are ten book clubs in the village. Ten. In a village of roughly 4,000.

If a private company takes over this service, they will want to make a profit. I struggle to see where this will come in (maybe someone can enlighten me?) save for cutting back on the quality and breadth of services provided. And if there isn’t a profit margin, then the company will be forced to shut down the library. Hence there’s even less protection against the risk of closure than if it was still council controlled. Local residents can at least exercise a level of control over the council, after all.

So here it is. The library provides a key community service. A place where learning and entertainment can be attained without charge. A place where residents can socialise and form community bonds. A cornerstone of the kind of involved society which the government claims to want to promote. Any threat to the library, therefore, is a direct threat to the community.

There is an online petition, and a fledgeling campaign, already set up to lobby against this decision. I strongly urge you, if the library matters to you, to speak up and sign it. Petitions can make a difference, and the will of the people is a tremendous force in a democracy. And beyond the petition, there will in the near future be a by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward (the precise details of I will certainly be blogging about at a later date). This will give Wargrave residents an opportunity to protest against this Conservative disregard for their library. And I can promise you now, the local Labour Party will always be a strong and vocal advocate for the importance of local library services.