An Election Day Letter to the People of Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Dear residents

Today is the day; election day. And the polls are now open, the ballot papers are now read, and I sincerely hope that somewhen in the next fifteen hours you will all be making your way to the polling station to cast your votes.

I have spent the last few weeks working hard, talking to you and distributing leaflets, and offering my policies and stances on the local issues that matter to you. I sadly haven’t managed to speak to all of you, but most of you will by now have seen my leaflet. And if you haven’t, and would still like to, I have made it available online here.

I wanted to take this last opportunity to simply remind you of the importance of your ballot paper. When you stand in the polling booth, you will hold in your hands the power to influence the course that your local government takes. And it is your local government. I know it hasn’t always felt like that, I know that the council haven’t listened to your views, your concerns, your opinions.

But the ballot box is the one thing they cannot ignore.

I have laid out the changes I would make, and how I would conduct myself differently if elected as your councillor. I would put your views and interests first, and I would push the council to consult more and listen more.

The disaster that has been the new rubbish scheme has shown what happens when council stagnates. There is no meaningful debate of ideas, and the assumption that those in power are right presides. The new scheme has been proved ill thought out from the start, and the Conservatives must accept blame for it.

I humbly ask you, today, for your trust, your support and your vote. Throughout this campaign I have tried my utmost to maintain an atmosphere of honesty (I was not afraid to hold my hands up when I got things wrong) and keep the focus on local issues that are within the ambit of the local authority. This is what I would strive to maintain in office.

With that said, I invite you to examine my policies once more. Besides my leaflet, I have made my own views and policies fully available on this blog, and you can read through those blogs here.

I thank you for the time you have invested in reading this, and all of the thousands of other words I have written.

Matthew S. Dent

Labour and Co-operative Party candidate

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe


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.

Danger! High Water!

The flood risk for the Wargrave area is not yet anything like this bad (picture from 2008), but it still merits a bit of caution.

No one knows just how bad the weather has been lately more than the election campaigners who have been canvassing up and down the country. The irony of there being a drought and hosepipe ban at the same time as all this rain would probably be a lot more amusing had I not been out in it putting leaflets through doors and talking to residents. I strongly suspect that the occasional respites of blue skies and sunshine are just mother nature mocking me.

Today areas of Ruscombe where I was leafleting were largely submerged. London Road, on the way in from Hare Hatch was particularly bad, as were some of the roads around St James the Great church.

I’ve no objection to wandering around in the rain, really. It’s all part of the democratic process, and I actually enjoy talking to residents. A hot cup of coffee when I get home, and I’m happy enough.

But the downpour has a serious side. Yesterday, the Environmental Agency released flood warnings for the Thames around the Wargrave area. It doesn’t seem to be too serious just yet, and there hasn’t been any announced risk to properties, so there’s no real cause for concern yet.

When you live close to a river it makes sense to be careful, and floods are certainly not to be sniffed at (the devastating floods that hit the country in 2007 are testimony to that). But we’re a long way from any real danger. We just need maybe a pair of wellies (and an umbrella at this rate).

A Correction – John Halsall and the Henley Standard

On Saturday morning, I posted a blog entitled “The Sincerest Form of Flattery“, in which I highlighted a portion of (my Conservative opponent in the upcoming election) Cllr John Hallsall’s statement in the Henley Standard  this week.

In the blog, I highlighted a sentence which was identical to my campaign line. It has since been brought to my attention by the journalist who wrote the piece that my own words were misattributed to Cllr Halsall, and he did not in fact say the statement in question.

So, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, I withdraw my accusations that he had “borrowed” my line. The blog in question will not be deleted (you’ll find no memory holes here), but I will add an update to the beginning linking to this post. I apologise to Cllr Halsall, and assure him that my mistake was made in good faith in the belief that the attributation was correct.

However, I stand by some of my conclusions in that blog, and I quote them here for ease of reference:

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.

I hope that this correction and apology will draw a line under the matter, and will be satisfactory to all involved- in particular John Halsall.

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.

Policing in the Northern Parishes

The Royal Oak pub, in Ruscombe, where two masked would-be robbers broke in and attacked the landlord and -lady last week.

Rather startling news on the front of this week’s Wokingham Times. The Royal Oak pub in Ruscombe was broken into by masked robbers, who attacked the landlord and landlady with a replica gun and taser before being chased away empty handed.

This would be dramatic stuff anywhere, but in such a tranquil area as northern Wokingham it’s almost unheard of. Thankfully no serious harm seems to have been done, but in small, close-knit communities like those which make up Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe this is a hammer blow to peoples’ sense of security and safety.

Wokingham is a safe area, relative to other places in the country. To try and claim this is evidence of the collapse of society would be madness. What it does illustrate is that we can never be complacent about serious and violent crime. The fact that such events are a rarity is a blessing, but not one to be taken lightly- because from time to time it does happen.

The government cuts to police budgets is of concern here. We’re repeatedly treated to claims that the cuts won’t hit the front line, but what does that actually mean? It’s unclear, but my interpretation so far is that it only applies to officers on the street. Not to the people answering your call to 999, not the people who direct the officers to where they need to be, and a whole host of other roles that allow the police to do their job.

In Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, our policing needs are covered by a couple of Police Community Support Officers, and the nearest station is in Twyford. Except not really: that station is manned by volunteers and open extremely odd hours. Not to demean the contribution of those volunteers, but you can’t pitch up there and expect to see an officer.

Policing is already stretched pretty thin here. One serious incident does not, as I’ve already said, indicate a crisis. But the danger exists that if cutbacks need to be made, policing presumed “safe” areas like here will be considered superflous and expendable. And that, in my opinion, is the quickest way to turn a “safe” area into an “unsafe” area.

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, 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

My Response to Cllr John Halsall

So I finally have a copy of the Conservative leaflet for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (thanks to the generosity and sense of fair play of Cllr Halsall himself), and can thus make my response to it.

At last year’s by-election there were five candidates, and so plenty of rival literature for me to blog about. This year only the three main parties are fielding candidates, and if my suspicions that the Lib Dems are focusing their attentions and resources elsewhere are true then this could be the only leaflet (other than my own) that residents see.

So on that note, what does it say?

[Here’s a slightly lower-tech download link, if Scribd isn’t working for you, or a link to the leaflet on if you’d prefer not to download]

The first page has the usual ode to [insert local area here], which to be honest is more or less universally unobjectionable. An interesting addition is a vote of confidence from Theresa May, who “looks forward to working with him over the next four years“. I imagine she’d look forward less to working with me, but given her apparent failure to grasp elementary timekeeping, I might choose to take that as a compliment.

John is also described as “the LOCAL & EXPERIENCED choice”. Which presumably is a shot at my age. I’ll grant that he is more “experienced” than I am, but I’d dispute that age necessarily makes a better councillor. I’d counter that what the council needs is an injection of radical new ideas, that are a bit more grounded in common sense and reality than what the council has been producing lately.

Inside, we’re treated the usual (possibly obligatory?) refrain about how poor Wokingham is. This is the Tories’ first, last and only line of defence against criticism. They have to sell off the libraries/sell off social care/stealth tax residents/treat voters like mugs, because they’re the worst funded local authority in the world. I won’t take up words here dispelling that particular myth, but suffice it to say it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Moving forward, John has identified three key areas where he intends to focus his efforts if re-elected:

  • Roads and traffic: John has correctly identified parking as a problem, especially around the centre of the village. This has been a problem since before I moved to Wargrave, and boils down to two simple facts: too many cars, not enough space to park them. There isn’t a quick or easy fix to this one. Restrict parking, and whilst making residents happy you make local businesses unhappy. Leave it unrestricted, and residents have to compete with customers for parking space. This one is going to run and run.
  • Green belt and planning: John is concerned with the preservation of green-belt land around the village(s). This is a pleasant, rural area, and I imagine a lot of people would agree. I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the “build” and “don’t build” camps. I accept that there is a need for increased housing provision across the borough, but would rather not see my favourite views and walking routes paved over. Of course, what John doesn’t mention is that it’s actually the Conservative-led national government’s planning reforms that are threatening green belt land. Don’t just take it from me; that’s the opinion of the Daily Telegraph.
  • Wargrave library: I’ll admit, this made me giggle. “The Conservatives are committed to the Library service by improving the efficiency of service delivery whilst maintaining and bettering what is offered.” Oh really? Then why are you selling it off? And why, John, are you failing to address the concerns over privatisation, by offering only a bland, manufactured non-statement?

Have you noticed what’s missing though? For the last couple of months, the local press has been alive with the complaints of residents that the new waste scheme is unfit for purpose. I’ve written plenty on this, and have conversed with John himself on the matter by email. But all his leaflet has to say on the matter is that if elected he will:

Address the concerns of the new waste collection scheme

And that’s it. How, John? I’ve quite clearly laid out what I think the council should do. The scheme hasn’t just had teething problems, it has been conceptually flawed from the start. People on the doorstep are angry that this has been sprung on them and that no one is listening to their complaints. This won’t address anyone’s concerns- though I confess it’s a little better than a certain Winnersh candidate’s adamant insistence that the scheme is perfect.

As I’ve said before, I like John Halsall. He is a very nice man, and every time I have had occasion to converse with him he has been polite and a joy to talk to. Sadly, though, this election comes down to policy. I strongly suspect that John himself is displeased with the waste scheme, and the library plans, and a host of other WBC policies. But he’s been left no choice but to try to defend them.

Cllr John Halsall represents the status quo. I can’t promise that I will be able to right all the wrongs in Remenham, Wargave and Ruscombe, because I won’t. But I am the candidate for change, and a change is very definitely what is needed.

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.