pinkneys green

Pinkneys Green: the winners and the losers

After the Pinkneys Green election count last night, the dust has settled, and in the cold light of day the results don’t look any better. There’s not really a way to spin it, there were distinct winners and losers here.

The winners were clearly the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. Sadly, the losers were Labour and the Conservatives.

Firstly, Labour. I am disappointed with our results. We worked hard, canvassing widely and getting mostly good feedback. To come fourth behind a UKIP candidate who did very little campaigning (indeed, who turned up at the polling station yesterday morning and asked the tellers from the other parties “Why are you taking numbers? This is a local election, you don’t actually do anything. You’re not actually going to knock up, are you?“) is very disappointing. There’s no real way of spinning it as anything else.

For the Lib Dems, though, this will be a great encouragement. They won the election, so clearly they did well. But it goes a bit beyond that. They won this election despite polling ratings being in the toilet, despite having been all but wiped out in the 2011 local elections, and despite the local Tories throwing the kitchen sink at this election.

However, its worth looking at just how they won the election. Granted, they ran a good campaigning operation. But in the end it wasn’t that which won them the seat. The margin between Simon Werner and Tory Catherine Hollingsworth was eight votes. UKIP, in comparison, polled 152.

At the count, UKIP councillor Tom Bursnall (who, let us remember, defected from the Conservatives) joked with me that if UKIP won “we’ll be withdrawing Pinkneys Green from the EU“. A joke, but it shines an interesting light on the state of affairs: UKIP have nothing offer on a local level. They are a one issue party, and that one issue is irrelevant here. Those 152 votes must be for the most part disaffected Conservatives making a protest vote.

And this is why, although Labour came last, the Conservatives were the biggest losers of the night. They were denied a council seat by UKIP. Replicate this on bigger elections, across the country, and the Tories are in trouble. The left-wing vote has long been split between Labour and the Lib Dems, and now UKIP are doing the same on the right.

I was mystified that, with it being so close, Ms Hollingsworth didn’t pursue a recount. Losing the seat is immaterial in itself, as the Conservatives still hold the vast majority of seats. But losing as a result of UKIP is a major political setback. The fact that Tory councillors came out on mass to canvass the ward only makes it more humiliating.

UKIP now have a lot more leverage over the Conservatives on a national level. There have been internal forces pushing David Cameron to make a deal with the anti-EU party and those voices will only get stronger as a result.

So there we have it. A bloodied Conservative Party, Labour in the same place, UKIP emboldened, and a new Lib Dem on the council. Talking to Simon Werner, he seems like a nice guy — and is, apparently, on the social democrat wing of the yellow party.

But I still think Pat McDonald would have made a better councillor.

Vote Pat McDonald in Pinkneys Green

Pat McDonald campaigning with Labour PCC candidate Tim Starkey in Maidenhead high street.

It’s election day in the Pinkneys Green ward of the Royal Borough of Maidenhead and Windsor, and by now polling stations are open. They will stay open until 10pm, allowing some fifteen hours for residents to vote.

There are a few reasons why this by-election will probably have quite a low turnout (and they apply to next month’s Police & Crime Commissioner elections, too):

  • Poor promotion: a worrying majority of voters who I spoke to whilst canvassing had no idea that an election was even happening. The ballot hasn’t been terribly well promoted, and a large number of the electorate will have no idea about it.
  • Weather: it’s the middle of autumn. It feels, if we’re honest, more like the start of winter. This is not prime election weather. There is a reason that elections are most commonly held in May: because the weather is likely to be nicer, and thus more people are willing to walk down to the polling station. If it is (as weather forcasts indicate) grey and miserable and cold tomorrow, then a lot of people will simply think “Screw it!”
  • Apathy: Linked to both of the above options, many voters simply aren’t interested. Maybe it’s because they think that all politicians are crooks (unfair), or that their vote won’t make a difference (understandable), they have no intention to vote.

But in low turnout situations, unexpected things can happen.

The Labour and Co-operative candidate Pat McDonald is a long-standing resident and activist in Maidenhead. He has sat on his parish council, stood for parliament, and is heavily involved with Maidenhead United Football Club. He would be an excellent addition to the borough council and an excellent representative for Pinkneys Green.

I don’t know anything about the Conservative candidate, but there are more than enough Tories on the council as things are, and their policies are already failing the public both nationally and locally.

The Liberal Democrat candidate is Simon Werner — the former councillor who the electorate chucked out at the last local elections, and whose party is propping up the Tories in a national government which is failing on every promise it has made. They have also cost the local taxpayer some £3,000 to hold this by-election now, rather than coinciding with the Police Commissioner elections three weeks later.

I’ve already said on this blog that a Labour win at this by-election would be the only result which could substantially change the political situation in Maidenhead. For the reasons detailed above, I have to look at such a victory as a distinct possibility.

People of Pinkneys Green, please go out and cast your vote today. Vote for the candidate for change and a better future.

Vote for Pat McDonald.

Voter apathy: a serious problem for the left

This weekend I was out and about in Maidenhead, canvassing for the Pinkney’s Green by-election next week. A  bizarre practice, canvassing, where we few political enthusiasts go door to door, bothering people who most of the time don’t want to be bothered in an effort to persuade them to vote for our candidate.

Like I said, a bizarre practice. But it’s one that forms the cornerstone of our democratic system.

And yet, knocking on doors on a brisk Saturday morning, I was alarmed at just how many people said that either they weren’t planning to vote or didn’t even know that there was an election on. The overwhelming majority of households showed a worrying disconnection and disaffection from their local democracy.

There are a number of reasons why this shouldn’t be surprising:

  1. Democratic involvement and thus electoral turnout has been down on trend since the 1950s.
  2. Turnout at the last local elections in Wokingham (the neighbouring authority to Windsor & Maidenhead) was only 30%, despite some serious local issues framing the ballot.
  3. After the expenses scandal, Nick Clegg’s u-turn on tuition fees, the hacking scandal, the Tories’ NHS u-turn, and a host of other incidents, the public’s distaste for politicians is higher than ever.

But still, if you were to ask most people they would probably say they aren’t happy with the government — local or national.

It’s never been any secret either that conservative voters are more likely to go out and vote. There are all sorts of reasons, but it gives right-wing parties an electoral advantage (remember that when you hear Tory MPs talking about boundary reviews and Labour advantages). Those who would naturally support the Conservatives are more likely to go down to the polling station on election day than those who would naturally support Labour.

Part of it, I’m convinced, is down to a sense of empowerment. The more affluent voters more inclined to vote blue feel that they have a stake in the system and that their votes count. The poorer, more vulnerable voters who would be most helped by policies of the left do not. In the words of one gentlemen I spoke to on Saturday:

Whoever I vote for, it makes no difference to me, it makes no difference to my life.

Whether or not that’s true is up for debate, but what isn’t is that him and a lot of other people like him feel that way.

The truth is that politics is often boring. For every exciting moment of heated debate, there’s a boring committee meeting about details which would bore the pants off most. This is doubly true with local government. And yet, this it is through these mechanisms which their lives can be enhanced and improved.

This is a serious problem for the left, although I don’t have a solution. But a turnout as low as (or lower than) one third is not accurately representative of the public view. The only real remedy to this that we have at our disposal (excluding making voting compulsory) is party infrastructure, “getting the vote out“.

In the longer term, though, we need to do something to make people, all people, feel that their votes matter and make a difference.

Labour Conference 2012 – A Summary


So conference is over. I’ve been home for a weekend, eating at regular times and not rushing all around Manchester to various fringe events. I am very much into the “comedown” stage of post-conference life. So what were the highlights? I’ve had a few days’ distance to think about this, and I’ve begun to put together a bit of a “best of” list:

  • That speech. Yes, Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech. Undoubtedly the highlight of the week, and despite the scepticism of certain quarters, we could well see this as the turning point moment in his leadership. He was calm and confident, relaxed and likeable, and managed to do the whole thing without any notes. It was spectacular to behold.
  • The emergence of a clear theme for Labour, as we head towards the next election. “One Nation” is not a new idea, but it is coherent and effective, and a clear counterpoint to the fractured and divided society that the Tories’ are creating in done sort of cynical divide-and-conquer strategy. It’s the clearest and most optimistic idea I’ve heard from Ed, and addresses my prior criticisms of the “predistribution” idea by couching it in understandable language.
  • Meeting so many people who I have only known through a broadband connection. Around the converge in general, but also at the excellent Political Scrapbook tweetup. I don’t want to start listing names, as someone will doubtless get lost in the cloud which obscures my memory, but you are all awesome, and it was a particular joy to meet and endlessly discuss politics with Cllr Julian Ware-Lane. As For the tweetup, I remember as a particular highlight Tom Watson (yes, that Tom Watson) explaining to me the behind-the-scenes panicking at Labour HQ at the idea of Ed doing his speech without Autocue or notes. Apparently the scourge of Murdoch quelled the chaos, and told the Labour leader not to take any notice of it. Let Ed be Ed indeed.
  • The sense of optimism. The Guardian rather unfairly described the atmosphere as flat, but my presiding sense was one of optimism. Living in an almost homogeneously blue bloc in the south east is disheartening sometimes, but meeting and talking to so many activists with so many stories from all across the country was encouraging. I feel utterly reinvigorated.

So where now? Well, in the long term, 2015 and a Labour government. But in the immediate term, there’s a by-election in Pinkneys Green ward in a few weeks, and the Police and Crime Commissioner elections soon after. Let’s start there. I’ll look for you all on the campaign battle-lines, comrades.

Something Strange in Pinkneys Green

So next month, there’ll be a local by-election, in the Pinkneys Green ward of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

Conservative councillor Wilson Hendry sadly passed away at the end of August, leaving his Pinkneys Green seat on the council vacant. The returning officer was notified of the vacancy, and now there is a by-election scheduled for 25th October 2012.

Nothing unusual there, right?

Except, when you get into the detail, there is something a bit strange about all of this. When a vacancy on a council occurs due to death, retirement, resignation, etc, the returning officer has to be notified by two residents. Traditionally, the returning officer is notified (and thus the by-election triggered) by the party who held the seat.

On this occasion, the Liberal Democrats notified the returning officer, the end result being the date I mentioned earlier. Except that the police commissioner elections are being held on 11th November, only three weeks after the Pinkneys Green by-election.

This means that the polling stations in the ward will have to be opened and manned twice in the space of a month. Holding elections is an expensive business — as well as printing ballot papers and sending out postal ballots, the polling stations have to be rented out, and the staff paid. Holding the by-election on the same date as the police commissioner elections would have saved a not-insubstantial amount.

So why have the Lib Dems brought the poll ahead? Well, I’m not quite sure.

It’s difficult to see that they have a great deal to gain from the move. Perhaps they’re trying to steal a march on the Conservatives, hoping to replicate their surprise Eton and Castle by-election win of last year. I think, really, they’re on a hiding to nowhere with that.

And looking at the make-up of the council, it seems even more baffling that any party would incur the additional cost to the public purse of calling this election early. Simply put, the results will change nothing on the council. The Conservatives command an overwhelming majority, and whilst a win would no doubt be encouraging for the Lib Dems, it would still only leave them with three seats.

Indeed, looking at the breakdown of the council, only Labour have a significant amount to gain here, should we win our first council seat.

Incidentally, the Labour candidate will be Patrick McDonald. He should be familiar to residents already, having stood as Labour candidate in the 2010 parliamentary election. But if not, he will be campaigning hard in the weeks leading up to the vote, so there’ll be plenty of time for residents to meet and talk to him.

But I’d still love to know the logic which led the Lib Dems to force a couple of thousand pounds of unnecessary spending on the borough during a recession.