I’m venturing a bit out of my patch here, as I don’t have any vested interest of my own in Winnersh, but after a few weeks of observing the behaviour of the Tory candidate there I feel I can’t resist commenting. So here, for your enlightenment and entertainment, is the curious case of Mark Ashwell.
Some of you might recognise the name. This is almost certainly because he created local headlines in 2010 by resigning from the Conservative Party in order to stand as an independent against Wokingham MP John Redwood (indeed, his website still calls him such). The results of that little effort speak for themselves: fourth place with 4.3% of the vote. So less than a resounding success.
[UPDATE: I’ve been reliably informed that Mr Ashwell was expelled by the Conservatives, when he chose to stand as an independent, rather than resigning. Many thanks to @RTPeat]
Now though he’s been accepted back into the fold, rejoined the Conservative Party, and is fighting the Winnersh council seat as their candidate. For a bit of background, last year the Tories won Winnersh with a majority of 74 votes (2.3%). To say it’s marginal is an understatement, particularly in the volatile local political situation at the moment. Mark has been given, as a welcome back present, arguably the most marginal seat in the borough.
Mark has taken to Twitter as part of his campaigning, using the handle @mark4winnersh, and in doing so has created something of a stir. The Wokingham Times printed an article on Twitter use, particularly focusing on Mark and his Twitter tangle with Lib Dem leader and Winnersh councillor Prue Bray.
As far as I’m concerned, Mark living just outside the boundary of the ward is an irrelevance. He’s close enough to know the community, so if he’s capable of being a good councillor then who cares? But where Mark seems to have stepped off a cliff is with his dogged insistence that the new rubbish scheme is excellent, and alternating between believing nobody disagrees unless it’s political troublemaking, or it’s simply “teething problems”.
This, actually, seems to be the local Conservative line, so we can’t criticise him for that too much. But the problem really is that he seems to have no clear policies and nothing that he’s actually offering. I get that it’s difficult when you’re the party in power and your policies have failed, but he’s offering nothing but bland and naive positivity. Take, for example, this:
— MarkAshwell4Winnersh (@Mark4Winnersh) April 4, 2012
Mark’s election leaflet (which you can see here) reflects similar. It rests on the laurels of previous “achievements”, most of which would be disputed by residents, and promises little or nothing for the future. And, of course, it trumpets the council tax freeze without mentioning the stealth taxes that have allowed it.
But by far the most worrying thing about Mark is his reaction to being challenged. Yesterday I reported that he had been blocking people on Twitter. This wasn’t limited to myself and other opposition activists, but also unaligned voters who had called him out on some of his tweets. Just for context, I have in total blocked only one person and that was only because they were incapable of having a civil and polite discussion. I have no qualms about defending my beliefs and principles.
Mark has since unblocked myself and others, presumably after other local Tory figures stepped in to tell him how bad it looked. But the damage is done. He has behaved in exactly the same way as the council do- take inappropriate action, get called out on it, and flap around trying to back out.
This isn’t meant as an attack on Mark, and voters should make up their own minds about who to vote for. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice man, but he hasn’t covered himself in glory during this campaign. The truth is that whilst I would happily buy double-glazing from him, but I wouldn’t vote for him to be a councillor.