Remenham Wargrave and Ruscombe

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, 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!

Botching the Bins

The new bin bags of Wokingham's (possibly illegal) waste collection scheme, and a poll from the Wokingham Times showing how residents feel about it.

It’s unpopular, its possibly illegal, and it’s happening now! I am, of course, talking about Wokingham Borough’s new waste collection and disposal scheme, the rolling out of which has begun today.

The gist of the scheme is that households will be restricted to 80 bags of waste per year. These bags will be given out to residents, and waste in any other bags will not be collected. If more bags are needed, then residents will have to buy them at £0.40 each.

Today saw the first stage of distribution of the bags. Now, since these are rationed out amongst households, and more have to be paid for if needed, this means that the rolls of 80 bags going out today and throughout this month are worth £32 each. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were simply being left on doorsteps.

There has already been some discussion of a “blue bag black market” once this scheme is rolled out, so the council should be on top of this. There is so much potential for opportunistic theft here, as people look to amass a stock of bags to meet their own needs, and to sell any surplus for profit.  These bags represent £32 of council tax paid by each household- what the council are doing is the equivalent of giving you a £32 tax rebate and leaving it in cash, in an envelope taped to your front door.

This is shocking, but not terribly surprising. The whole scheme has been poorly thought out from the beginning, and potential problems with it have been raised from all sides, and been brushed off by the Conservative administration. What they are doing is introducing additional charges (“stealth taxes”, if you will) for services which were previously paid for by your council tax, in order to be able to shout about how your council tax isn’t going up (which, incidentally, if you live in Wargrave it is). They aren’t actually saving you money, they’re just charging you more on the sly.

Credit where it’s due, whoever operates the @WokinghamBC twitter account has been trying their best to field queries about this all day, and I had a particularly enlightening exchange with them (below) which explains what to do if your bags are stolen. But with a policy which was never popular, the council seem determined to scale new heights of criticism. The Wokingham Times article about it is brimming with unhappy commenters, and their online poll (pictured) shows just what residents feel of it.

My somewhat-helpful exchange of tweets with the council, about the distribution of the new blue bin bags.

For Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (and other RG10 area) residents then, your blue bags will be delivered on FRIDAY 9TH MARCH. I’m not sure how much use knowing this will be, as it’s likely to be in the day and many residents will be at work, but you might want to make arrangements for someone to secure yours on your behalf. Other than that, I’m not sure what else can be done, but if you want to send an annoyed letter to your local councillor then maybe they’ll at least realise how riddled with holes this scheme is.

The truth is that this was a botched idea, a botched conception, and now a botched execution.

UPDATE: Fresh news on this fiasco this morning. The Wokingham Times are reporting that Paul Baveystock, the head of waste and recycling, has promised to replace all bags reported as stolen free of charge. This is a positive step, and frankly the only reasonable thing that the council could have done, but questions still remain.

Firstly, this has been a disaster. And not an unpredicted one. The council executive repeatedly ignored concerns raised over it, assuring everyone that these problems would not occur. Well, they have. And whilst I salute Mr Baveystock stepping in, what needs to happen is for Cllr Gary Cowan (executive member for environment) to stand account for these failures.

Secondly, the entire point on which this scheme was mooted was one of savings (though, in fact, expense was only shifted onto residents, through a stealth tax). If Mr Baveystock will replace all bags reported stolen free of charge, and has said:

“We take those reports at face value…”

then, whilst that is definitely the right thing to do, the scheme is opened up to fraud. How much will this cost the council? How will this affect the finances? And what other public services will have to be sacrificed to pay for Wokingham Borough Council’s ineptitude?

Council Tax Revisited

Cllrs Bob Pitts and John Halsall were full of praise when Tory Wokingham Borough froze its share of council tax. Will they be criticising their parish-level colleagues in Wargrave for raising theirs?

The other week, as Wokingham’s local budget drew closer, I had a look at the fallacy inherent in the Conservative obsession with council tax cuts/freezes at all cost. There were a lot of things I had to say about it, chiefly calling for a more nuaunced look at the issue than the “cuts good, rises bad” dichotomy that they stick to.

But in my holding forth on Wokingham’s budget, I’d overlooked this little gem in The Henley Standard. Henley has a town council, under South Oxfordshire District Council, so it makes sense that the Standard would focus on town/parish council level. Here’s what they say (emphasis added):

“The biggest rise is in Sonning Common at 20 per cent, or £6.67 a year extra. Other rises include Peppard at three per cent, Wargrave (2.49 per cent) and Watlington (one per cent). Benson Parish Council is reducing its precept from £69.14 to £68.57 per household.”

I reckon a lot of readers will be particularly shocked at the percentage figure for Sonning Common, but I’m not going to pass judgement on it directly, as I don’t known enough about the parish’s situation. The fact that Wargrave faces an increase interests me.

The thing is that council tax has a number of constituents. There’s the part that goes to the local authority, but for Wargrave residents there are also the precepts charged by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the parish council, as well as the likes of police authorities. It’s already widely known that the Borough Council have taken a one-off government grant to freeze their share, and so have RBFRS.

But parish councils get no such grant, so if they are to freeze or cut their precepts, then they have to bear the pain of it themselves. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t cut or freeze precepts, but it does seem a bit of a cheek for the Conservatives in power at grant-gifted Borough Council level to be laying into Woodley Town Council for not cutting their precepts.

I don’t really know that much about Wargrave Parish Council’s activities and expenditures. They did have a non-functioning website, but that now seems to have died off completely. As such, I’m not going to lash out with fire and brimstone at them for daring to raise precepts, as I suspect they play a significant role in the excellent biennial Wargrave Festival, and there may be very valid reasons for a minor increase.

However, the two Conservative councillors who represent the village at Borough Council, Bob Pitts and John Halsall (both of whom live outside of the parish, though still within the ward- in Ruscombe and Remenham respectively) both lent considerable rhetorical support to the local budget, praising Wokingham for freezing its share of council tax. Given that Wargrave Parish Council is conservative with a small c if not with a capital C, and given that Mr Halsall will be standing against me for re-election in May, I wonder whether they would support the parish councillors, or damn them as their colleagues did Woodley Town Council?

There is room for both hypocrisy and idiocy here.

100 Days

If all goes to plan, the next 100 days will see the return of Matthew S. Dent, Labour candidate for Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe (probably with a new candidate photo...)

Thanks to someone on Twitter, for drawing my attention to the fact that we’re now less than 100 days from the 2012 local elections, on May 3rd. It’s nothing official yet, but I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m hoping to run again in Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe. My last run at the by-election was an amazing experience and gave me a whole new outlook on politics.

In the interim between then and now, I’ve gotten much more involved in politics on a local level. I have clear expectations for what will meet me on the doorstep, and an understanding of what a successful candidate will and won’t be able to do. The EU, the national economy and bankers’ bonuses (am I the only one who thinks that plural should be bonii?) are bound to be emotive issues, but are largely beyond the ambit of a local councillor.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t be engaged with, or that I won’t. Thursday’s meeting of Maidenhead CLP saw a very lively and involved discussion of what needs doing to fix the economy, and amid the competing ideas the one consistent strain was that the government’s approach was making things worse, not better (hurting, but not working).

Local elections in May will be taking place across Wokingham, and I expect to be travelling far and wide across the borough to support candidates in other wards (including the excellent Greg Bello over at Bulmershe & Whitegates).

Many of the issues elsewhere in the however, don’t really apply to the northern parishes. For example, the Wokingham town centre regeneration and the utter mess that has been made regarding public toilets in Woodley is of only tangential interest to Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe residents. Instead, they have their own worries. I expect the dominant issues in my own campaign to be:

  • The library: the issue that initially brought me into the July by-election and local politics is still going, and the war of words between myself and Conservative councillors in the local press has only hardened my opposition. The announcement of the tender process results should be made in May, so I expect the Tories will be looking to brush this under the carpet. I don’t plan to let them.
  • Waste disposal: one of the Tories’ pet issues nationally, locally Wokingham are retaining a weekly collection service, but are introducing limitations on how much waste will be collected, as well as a £60 opt-in scheme for garden waste. Expect a fuller analysis nearer to the polling day, but with household budgets already stretched, I’m not convinced residents will welcome the extra concerns.
  • Local democracy: this is something I’ve been banging on about to anyone who will listen. There is no political plurality in Wokingham, only utter dominance by the Conservative Party. As I discovered when I attended a council meeting in November, the executive makes the decisions between themselves, and the legions of backbench Conservative councillors are used to rubber stamp it through. They have no fear of facing electoral consequences of their actions, so the result is a disconnect between residents and representatives; as clearly demonstrated by the refusal to pre-publish the budget, which feeds down into a whole council operation which the people feel they have no stake in.

These are only the issues that jump out at me as the biggest at the moment. There will be countless others, and I fully intend to address and discuss those as they arise. But there is certainly fertile soil for local political debate, which I hope to be able to use against the Tories’ “Here we are, vote for us again please!” approach.

…And in with the New

So, 2012 is here at last! The year of mayoral elections, Olympics, the 29th February, and lots of doom-mongering about the end of the world. Which, actually, seems to have started early with yesterday’s return of bird flu. What joys we have to look forward to…

The start of January is, traditionally, the time that everyone spends denouncing New Year’s resolutions as a load of nonsense. Why make all these pledges you’ll never keep, specifically on the first day of the year? Surely if you want to improve yourself, it shouldn’t be dependent on a certain date?

Well yes, but shut up. Self-improvement is a worth objective whenever, so whilst waiting for New Year to start is dumb, taking advantage of the opportunity to set objectives for the year ahead isn’t. And without further ado, I submit to you dear reader my objectives for 2012:

  • Read more, write more, publish more: 2011 was something of a crap year as far as my publishing went. One story published at the start of the year, and one acceptance at the end. Not really good enough. So since my story “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” will be shortly printed in the Night Terrors II anthology, I want to start off on that foot. Writing, submitting and publishing. I have several ideas for short stories, a novella underway, and am a few chapters into Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.
  • Take second place in the May elections: the Rememnham, Wargrave and Remenham by-election I stood in last year saw a good showing for the Labour vote. A strong third place, with a weak turnout. In May the same seat will be up again for re-election, and I hope to get the Labour nomination (I can’t see much competition for it). I’m a realist, so my aim is to take second place off the Lib Dems, but of course a surprise landslide victory would be very welcome!
  • Find a job: I’m currently still volunteering with Political Scrapbook, as I have been for several months. It’s a lot of fun, very convenient and I’ve learnt a lot, but I have a rather powerful need for a proper job promptish. So I want a decent job by the end of the year, so I can start saving and get my life and career on track post-university.
  • Go to FantasyCon 2011: Since I’m finally a member of the BFS, I’m going to FantasyCon, and no one can bloody stop me! It’ll be a fantastic dose of inspiration, I’ll get to go back to Brighton, and I’ll meet so many of the genre writers I admire (I already owe Gary McMahon a drink!)
  • Go to the Labour Party Conference: I was gutted to miss this in 2011. Liverpool is my favourite city in the country, and I would have loved to have gone. This year is Manchester, so still my old stalking grounds, and I’m going.  Whether as Maidenhead CLP delegate or just as a party member, I’m not really too bothered.

So there we have it. What I want from 2012. And if I can get through it hearing a minimum number of ranters going on about the end of the world, so much the better.

Happy new year to you all!

On Experience: In All Its Forms

As regular readers of this blog will know, I recently stood as the Labour candidate in my home ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (in Wokingham Borough). It was a fairly safe Tory seat, and I managed to poll third place, with a substantially increased share of the vote.

As those of you who have read my “About” page on this blog may be aware, I am originally from a medium-sized industrial town in the North West, called Warrington. It’s famous for (in the plus column) Lewis Carroll, Warrington Wolves RLFC and playing a considerable role in the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as (in the minus column) Kerry Katona and Chris Evans. It also has a local by-election today, in the Poulton North ward.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on it, and today I noticed this article on the Warrington Guardian website, in which the Lib Dems have been slating the Labour candidate, Ashley Pemberton, on the grounds of his lack of experience. Ashley is a student, and rather than tackling him on policy grounds (on which the Lib Dems across the country seem mostly bankrupt), Cllr Bob Barr has gone for his youth as a factor which makes him unsuitable to be a councillor.

This not only seems stupid to me, but seems to be representative of a destructive malaise which has taken hold of local politics nationwide. Look at Borough and District councils across the country, and at the ages of the people sitting on them. By and large, I’d guess, they’re over forty. Not that this is a bad thing, there is a certain level of experience which age alone can offer, but I do think it stilts a council to have such a homogeneous age of councillors.

Obviously I have a personal stake in a matter such as this, as a local candidate still under 21 (for a few more weeks, at least). The charge of being too inexperienced (read: young) was never levelled at me directly during my campaign, but it was always bubbling just under the surface (ironically, not from the Tories, who fought a campaign which although I disagree with was quite clean and amicable).

Now, I am young. But in that I don’t think I lack experience, I simply have different experience. In a time when central and local government cuts are falling on the young in particular, I can see more clearly what affects will be had. And aside from that, I am a completely different generation from most of the people sitting on Borough and District councils across the country, and have completely new ideas.

What people of my generation, and my age (and, dare I say it, my experience) can offer to local communities is a completely different way of thinking. My views and my ideas differ even from the older members of my own party, and I expect the same goes for Ashley, and the rest of my fellow young Labourites across the country. And, in fact, probably young members of other parties too.

What Cllr Barr is doing here is an campaign tactic: the Lib Dems are going to lose Poulton North and they know it, so they’re resorting to dirty tricks on the eve of the election. But it’s a dangerous idea to start throwing around. Do we really want our local government to be entirely controlled by the upper echelons of society, by middle-aged businessmen and retirees with time on their hands? That sounds like a serious threat to representative democracy to me.

The Fight Goes On!

My, yesterday was a busy day. I’d meant to write this blog entry yesterday, but honestly by the time I got back from Wokingham Borough Civic Offices I was so tired we just went straight to bed.

But now I’m awake, and coffee-ed, so it’s time to get to the keyboard. Firstly, graduation went brilliantly. I am now Matthew Stephen Dent LLB, after finishing three years of study at the University of Sussex with a 2:1 in Law, and a hug from Sanjeev Bhaskar. Seriously, there’s video evidence:

Congratulations to all Sussex graduates, particularly my fellow lawyers. Everyone has worked extremely hard, and I wish you all the very best in your futures, wherever they take you.

Secondly was, of course, the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe by-election, about which I’ve been harping on for months now. Yesterday was polling day, and saw me down at Woodcliffe Hall to vote before heading off down to Brighton. It’s been a great campaign, which has seen me have the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people. I loved every moment of it, and last night was the moment it call came to a head:

HALSALL, John (CON) – 850 votes (65.5%)

ALDER, Martin (LIB) – 272 votes (20.9%)

DENT, Matthew Stephen (LAB) – 94 votes (7.2%)

HEAPE, Andy (UKIP) – 55 votes (4.2%)

FOSS, Martyn (GREEN) – 19 votes (1.5%)

Me at the polling station yesterday, about to cast my vote in the by-election. Thank you to everyone who did the same!

So I got third place, and just over 7% of the vote, which is a fairly big improvement on Labour’s previous showings in the ward. Apparently the Lib Dems were a bit surprised at that, though Cllr Keith Baker claimed he’d expected an improved showing thanks to me (isn’t he sweet?).

I’m pleased with that. I beat UKIP, in what could be considered prime territory for them, and gained some ground on the Lib Dems. The seat is up for election again next May, so I’m hoping to use this result as a springboard to move forward off then, as part of a concentrated Labour attack on the four wards within Twyford and District Branch Labour Party’s purview where there will be elections (Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe, Twyford, Charvil and Hurst).

So thanks to everyone who offered support, helped me out with the campaign, and above all voted for me. I hope to see much more progress in the years to come, and thank you for joining me on this first step.

Lib Dems Getting Nervous?

Does Liberal Democrat bravado about two-horse races mask a deeper fear, that I might be about to challenge their position?

One more day to go, and I’m starting to feel a little pinch of nervousness in my stomach. It seems silly, given the unlikeliness of me winning. But I’m wondering if the Lib Dems aren’t starting to get a little worried.

I’m the first Labour candidate in a long while to actually campaign this ward. The first non-paper candidate in a while. Previously the ward has been a safe Tory seat, with the Lib Dems in clear second place and no one else in sight. This is something that the Lib Dems seem oddly proud of, though as I say since no Labour candidate has properly campaigned here before it isn’t exactly a fair measure.

But for the last few weeks I’ve been working the pavement hard. I’m at a disadvantage from the start, really, since I have less money to throw into a campaign, and a smaller pool of volunteers to draw from (though the local party members have risen admirably to my aid, and I’m proud to count myself amongst their number). So I’ve only been able to produce one leaflet, and have had to (largely) distribute it myself.

The Tories seem only to feel the need to put out one leaflet, and honestly when one looks at the electoral history of the ward, it seems understandable. The interesting thing, however, is the Lib Dems. On the face of it, they’ve put out three leaflets: one a few weeks before the date of the by-election was announced, another around the same time as I started canvassing, and then a third last night. Except, in reality, they seem to be the self-same leaflet.

They’ve moved things around, changed fonts, changed the format. But at its core, it contains largely the same information. There seems to be no new revelation which prompts another sheet, other than to maintain some sort of endless barrage. And I do wish that their canvassers would actually put leaflets all the way through letterboxes, and not leave them hanging halfway out. I suspect a lot of local residents would agree with me there.

But having damned them for putting out the same leaflet three times, there are a few minor changes, and I think they’re very telling. Firstly, the latest leaflet has a section about the reasons behind the by-election. This is on the front of my leaflet, and has been my primary line of attack against the Tories. Cllr Stretton resigned in a manner which showed utter disrespect for the people who voted for her, and showed she was thinking almost solely about her own political career. And yet this is the first I’ve seen from the Lib Dems mentioning. Maybe I’m gaining some traction with it. Maybe they’re worried they’re loosing ground on it.

Secondly, there’s a slight change in their “two-horse race” spiel. It featured on their last leaflet, saying:

Lib Dems v Conseravtives – that’s the political battle in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe and across the Wokingham Borough. The Conservatives control the council and the Lib Dems are the only opposition; there are no councillors from any other party, nor any independent councillors.

The latest leaflet says:

The Conservatives run the council. The Liberal Democrats are the only opposition and there are no other councillors. In Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe Labour have come bottom in the last 3 local elections, averaging less than 5% of the vote.

Notice the change of tack from a general attack on the chances of other parties, to a specific attack on my chances as Labour candidate? Interesting, isn’t it. In the previous leaflet, they were confident of their status as the only opposition. Now they seem to feel threatened by my campaign.

Everything they say is true. Labour have come bottom the last three times, with around 5% of the vote. But as I said above, there was no real campaign. And as for this two-horse race, is that all residents want? The Lib Dems, like the Tories, seem to discount the fact that such positions are only decided by the voters. Of course Labour can win here. All it takes is for people to go out tomorrow and vote for me.

This, I think, is what the Liberal Democrats are realising. I think they’re noticing a new challenger, who might be able to take up ground they have systematically failed to. I think they’re getting a bit worried.


Campaigning in the Rain

The Newalls Rise street party was a welcome break from pavement politics, and a fantastic day.

It’s been a few days now, since I’ve updated my blog, but they’ve been a busy few days.

Pavement politics has been in full swing, and I’ve now door-knocked most of Wargrave, and a good part of Ruscombe, and leafleted a lot more. Some areas of Wargrave, and of Remenham, won’t have had a leaflet through their door yet. I’m working to remedy that in the next few days, but if you haven’t had one yet and want to give it a read, you can do so here.

Thanks is owed to a few people, starting with Brian Scott, who has twice run leaflets around to me on weekday evenings so that I can get them out through letterboxes. Also, to Roy Mantel, Nigel Smith, and Spike Humphreys (especially Spike, who joined me for a morning door-knocking in Ruscombe in the pouring rain). Also to my gorgeous Ashleigh, who helped me leaflet all across Ruscombe today.

There’s been a fair amount of walking through the rain, but it hasn’t all been so arduous. Saturday saw the Newalls Rise street party! It started off looking questionable in the rain, but thanks to 1st Twyford Scouts, we got hold of a marquee, and a day of barbequed food and karaoke ensued. A great time was unquestionably had by all, and I can only apologise to neighbouring streets for our loud, often-questionable quality singing until midnight.

But back to the campaign, having spoken to an awful lot of people about an awful lot of things, I’ve been staggered at the positive reception I’ve been getting. There is a lot of anger at the Conservatives both nationally and locally, and a lot of feeling that ordinary people are ignored by the council. I think there’s some truth to that. Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe is on the outer edge of the Borough, and is a safe Tory seat. The Tories don’t feel it matters what happens here. They’ve failed to disown Cllr Stretton’s actions (the current party line being that she moved to Maidenhead and resigned because she has elderly parents, which really is neither here nor their).

I hope that every resident will go out and vote on Thursday, whether they vote for me or not. Democracy is important, and this is the chance to have a say on what’s going on locally at the moment. I haven’t spoken to anyone who’s happy about what the Tories are doing to the libraries. I’m offering an opportunity to reject moves towards privatisation.

And I hope that people will consider their vote, and not simply vote Conservative because that’s what they’ve “always done”. I hope people will read my campaign literature, and think about the issues. I don’t think anyone is completely happy with how the council are doing things, or how they are being represented. I ask you to think about who will work harder for you: another Tory careerist in a safe seat, or a Labour councillor in a generally quite Conservative area?

UKIP – Talking in Circles

I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t. The idea of a response to UKIP’s election literature seems like the epitome of daft. But I know that some people like their ideas, and what seems silly to me doesn’t to everyone else. But the rubbish that came through my door, from UKIP candidate Andy Heape, was more than rampant euroscepticism. It was just barmy.

I’ll confess that I haven’t seen much of UKIP’s election literature before, apart from a few national leaflets which were exactly what I would have expected. This is the first local leaflet I’ve seen, and it seems to be mostly waffle. Really, there are a few problems I see with it.

Firstly, it seems to have no bearing on the Ward. This is a by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, with a very specific cause behind it. Now, the main people UKIP would be aiming to take votes from are the Tories, whose fault this by-election this is and all of the other parties are hitting them over it. But strangely not UKIP.

Equally, all of the pledges made seem horribly general. For example, saving hospital services. The nearest major hospital is the Royal Berkshire  Hospital. To the best of my knowledge it isn’t under threat, and even if it was, it’s outside of Wokingham Borough Council’s jurisdiction, and so is irrelevant to this election. The only pledges with any locational specificity are for a purpose-built library, and regarding green belt and urbanisation in East Berkshire. The latter is very general, and the former doesn’t make any sense. Wargrave library is perfectly adequate, and a fantastic old building. It most certainly doesn’t need to be replaced.

But maybe he means Twyford library. For the uninitiated, Twyford library is a series of portacabins, which isn’t really fit for purpose, and does need replacing. Plans have even been approved by Twyford Parish Council for the building of a new Community Hub, incorporating the library. But there’s one slight problem: it’s not in the ward.

Now, I’m sure plenty of people in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe do use Twyford library. I’ve used it myself. But this is indicative of something bigger. Mr Heape is not a resident within the ward. It doesn’t even seem that he knows much at all about the ward and the concerns of the people there. And this sort of thing seems very close to the problems with Cllr Stretton, to whom the concerns of local residents didn’t matter.

But beyond Mr Heape himself, there are problems with some of his ideas. Leading the UKIP local agenda is the suggestion that local people should be able to call a binding referendum on local issues. It’s a nice idea on paper, giving local people a direct say over local issues. But that’s what we elect representatives for. And elections  (including referendums) are expensive. A parish election costs in the region of £3,000. This by-election will cost £9,000. Do we really have the money to call a referendum over every planning permission request?

I agree that there needs to be greater transparency and representation in local government. But the turnout in the AV referendum was painfully low. The turnout in this by-election probably won’t be high. Local people will be too apathetic to troop to the polling station every week to vote on an incredibly minor issue, and it will end up costing a fortune to achieve nothing at all.

The ironic part is that the leaflet header bears the legend “Straight talking”. This tosh seems anything but.