Labour and Co-op candidate for Finchampstead North
Matthew S. Dent
Labour and Co-op candidate for Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe
Labour and Co-op candidate for Finchampstead North
Matthew S. Dent
Labour and Co-op candidate for Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe
Pictured above is a double-page spread from this week’s Twyford Advertiser, placed by Wokingham Borough Council regarding the new waste collection scheme. I say the Twyford Advertiser, but I know for a fact that it appeared in the Maidenhead Advertiser, and I can only presume that it was in the rest of the Advertiser series newspapers too.
I’m a little torn about the concept here. On the one hand, I have been consistently complaining that communication of the new scheme has been utterly inadequate, with most residents only learning of it when blue bags appeared on their doorsteps. So from that point of view, it’s good that the council are finally making a message.
But on the other hand, it’s a bit late isn’t it? The scheme started (less than brilliantly) on Monday. After this chaotic week, I’m pretty sure most people now know about the scheme, even if it’s only through finding that they’ve missed their changed collection day. The first page of the ad takes the form of a letter from interim Chief Executive Andy Couldrick (it seems responsibility is slowly climbing the ladder- but still through council officers, not councillors themselves who seem still to be bunker-bound). In it, he acknowledges there have been problems:
“I am aware that the change in arrangements for collecting waste has not gone as well as it could have. Veolia environmental Services, who are operating the new scheme, and we at the Council, are aware tat this may have caused some confusion and inconvenience. I am sorry about this, and you have our assurance that we will continue to work hard to iron out all of the problems and make sure that the scheme works as successfully here as it does in other places.“
Which is interesting. Aside from the fact that “some confusion and inconvenience” feels like understatement, this is a welcome rowback from Peter Baveystock declaring success earlier on- a moment which felt similar to George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration.
But. Shouldn’t the ironing out have been done prior to implementing a wide-ranging and radical scheme. I find it hard to believe that this could have been devised without any thought of the impact, but it’s increasingly looking that way. Also, he claims that other councils have similar schemes. Which is true enough; but there are only three others, and they are all very controversial.
The second page is an FAQ sort of arrangement, presumably designed to do some of the informing that they failed to do before it started. I notice that the question (and their answer) about why they didn’t hold a consultation. But as an informative piece, it’s good enough. Though I still don’t know why they’ve changed all of the collection days around, if they aren’t trying to cause confusion and disaffection.
Finally, I’m wondering at the cost of this little PR venture. Most of it seems to be given over to flash shouting about the “good” points of the scheme in an effort to distract from the bad points, in usual Wokingham style (see the budget, and shouting about council tax freezes to distract from other shambles like this). If there was less of that, and Mr Couldrick’s letter a little less spin and a little more frank apology, then the whole thing could fit onto one page.
And whilst this may be of unparalleled interest to us in Wokingham, I sincerely doubt that the rest of Berkshire care. This notice could have been targeted towards the Twyford Advertiser exclusively, saving money and still reaching the areas of the borough that the Advertiser series cover.
It’s now two weeks (nearly) since the disastrous libraries debate at Wokingham Borough Council, but the local press is still mopping up the Conservatives’ ineptitude. This week is the turn of the Twyford Advertiser, whose article is simply titled “‘Shambolic’ meeting“. Three guesses as to who the shambolic part is a quote from!
The Twyford Advertiser‘s shiny new website features a briefer version of the story, but I shall, as usual, quote a portion of the printed text for you:
“Matthew S Dent, a Labour activist from Wargrave, called the debate shambolic.
“‘A private company will want to make money, which will need them to cut down somewhere,’ he said. ‘If the council won’t let them close libraries they’ll have to reduce opening hours, cut employees or their wages, and increase fees and fines.’
“He added that if WBC makes the terms too restrictive, no private partner will want to sign the contract.”
You may even notice that the photo with the article features a familiar face. It was taken on a freezing Monday morning outside a closed Wargrave Library, so all things considered I think it came out well. The look I was going for was serious, and the Advertiser‘s description of “CONCERNED” feels a bit generous. I might have lumped for “GORMLESS”, but it gets the point across I guess.
At any rate, it’s good to see the local press responding in so versatile manner to the horrific debate. The Wokingham Times did so with a frightfully responsive letters page, the Reading Chronicle with a very frank article. There is a risk of political stagnation in staunchly safe areas like this, and that can have disastrous consequences for democracy- a single party with absolute power isn’t often a good thing, regardless of which party it is. A local press unafraid to challenge and inform is a very effective foil to that. It will be very interesting to see how the Henley Standard cover the matter tomorrow.
The only disappointment in the matter is that, being in the Twyford Advertiser, the people of Maidenhead (who, arguably, suffer a worse state of single-party local dictatorship, with the Conservatives holding fifty of fifty-seven seats) are unlikely to read it.
This week’s Twyford (or Maidenhead) Advertiser sees a letter from yours truly, adorning the letters page. It’s a bit of a cheeky one, so I thought I’d share it with you all.
For those of you who can’t read my tacked-together-in-Paint image (sorry, it was over two columns), I will relate it in full:
“ON TUESDAY morning I browsed the Hansard records of Monday night’s House of Commons debate on an EU referedum, I was surprised to find Theresa May listed among the No’s.
This, one would assume, is the same Theresa May who called so vocally for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, until that pledge was quietly dropped from the Conservative manifesto.
Given her vote on Monday night, and her response reported by Ken Wight in last week’s letters page to a UKIP activist, is Mrs May perhaps becoming something of a Europhile?
And will Maindenhead Conservative Association be deselecting her in punishment for toeing the Government line, as numbers other local parties across the Country are reported to have threatened?
Only time, one presumes, will tell.
Matthew S. Dent”
Firstly, I would like to highlight that the abombinable apostrophe mistake in the first paragraph was not mine, but that of the Advertiser’s editorial staff. I know how to us an apostrophe, and I know (because I sent it to them as) “noes”. Sadly, the Advertiser seem to have stopped posting letters on their website, so you can’t comment angrily about it there. Feel free to do so here, instead, though.
Secondly, this is just a lighthearted jab at my local MP. I know Maidenhead Conservative Association won’t deselect her, no matter how annoyed many of them may be about the government’s stance on the EU. Probably, if they tried to, Mrs May would be given a different safe seat, and the whole lot of them would be suspended. It wouldn’t be the first time.
But what it does show, is that Mrs May might be at risk of splitting her vote. I don’t think we’re likely to see an upsurge of grassroots anger dethroning her (she had a majority of 16,769- even split, she won’t lose her seat), but these things always start small.
The incident I’m referring to in the letter, is when she was approached in the street by a UKIP campaigner who tried to offer her a UKIP DVD to watch, and she responded “I don’t need anything from UKIP, thank you.”
I probably would have said the same (or similar…), but this is different for two reasons. Firstly, I’m not an elected MP. Surely Mrs May would want to listen to the views of all constituents (apart from me, of course, I’m a Labour MP). Secondly, the Tories have been hemorrhaging voters to UKIP for a while now, and following the government’s performance on the EU referendum motion, even more quickly.
Maybe that’s something Mrs May should be concerned about. Or maybe not, what do I know?
UPDATE: My ego insists that I point out that the misplaced apostrophe was not the only sin of the Advertiser editorial staff, and that the butchered thing which they printed, whilst carrying the true content of my letter, bares little resemblance in structure.
So, after being disappointed yesterday that the Wokingham Times hadn’t printed the letter I sent in, about the by-election and myself as the Labour candidate (never mind- there’s still a few weeks ’til the election, maybe it’ll be in next weeks), today I’m mentioned in both the Maidenhead/Twyford Advertiser and the Reading Chronicle. As some might say: result!
The Advertiser has very kindly printed my letter, of which I have included a photograph. Since it’s a little on the small side (the picture), I’ll quote here the text:
“On July 21 there will be a by election in the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. This election has been triggered by the resignation of Cllr Claire Stretton (Conservative) after her election to Windsor and Maidenhead Council, in a shocking display of arrogance and disregard to the people she was supposed to be representing. The election, however, gives the people of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party, who arrogantly expect that they can still breeze to victory, even after their previous councillor has caused an expensive by-election. It also gives residents a chance to make their feelings known on other local issues, such as the planned privatisation of the library, which puts a vital community service at risk. As the Labour Party candidate, I will be fighting all such cynical and ideologically-motivated moves by Wokingham Council and, if elected, I will always put the people of the ward first. I will be campaigning throughout the ward in the coming weeks, and I strongly urge residents with any questions or issues they would like to make me aware of to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post at 3 Newalls Rise, Wargrave.”
Not bad eh?
And the Reading Chronicle article, rather than being a letter in which I spout my positions, is a
piece on Wokingham Borough Council’s plans to privatise the library service. The reporter contacted me after my comments on their website criticising the plans, and the article includes a couple of choice quotes with my feelings on the matter. Again, since the photograph is rather small, I’ll quote the relevant text:
“…Matthew Dent, who lives in Wargrave and uses the library regularly, said: “Once the libraries are outsourced to a private company the focus will be on profit and if it all goes wrong it will be the smaller libraries which suffer- even though they do more for the community. Mr Dent, the prospective Labour candidate for the village’s vacant borough council seat, added: “Wargrave’s library gets very involved in the annual festival and other activities, but I can’t see that staying a priority if a private company steps in”…”
Again, not bad? Although, I didn’t say that the festival was annual (it’s biennial), but I think we can excuse them that? Neither piece is up on the papers’ websites yet, although I will add links when they appear.
Other than that, it’s a very busy period for me. In an hour or two I’m off down to Brighton, to collect my University results tomorrow (on which there will certainly, be a blog). And from there, it’s up to sunny Scunthorpe for a family gathering, to which I will alas not be the person who has travelled furthest (we have some Australian relatives joining us, for a rare treat). And then next week I will be hitting the pavements, and starting canvassing. So if you live in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, you can expect to see me very soon. I look forward to it!
(Oh, and I now have a Facebook page. I’ll keep it updated with everything that’s going on with the election and my campaign, so if you want to keep up with it all, please click “Like”)
UPDATE: Here is the link to the letter on the Maidenhead Advertiser website, in case anyone wants to see/comment on it in its natural habitat.