Wokingham Borough

Arrogance and Sour Grapes

Cllr David Lee: “It’s so unfair!”

I was expecting (and, I believe, even predicted) that we would have to endure some mad post-election nonsense from Wokingham Conservatives. But I’d expected the announcement of a policy that had gone utterly unmentioned throughout the campaign, and on Monday.

I suppose that’s still a possibility, but I hadn’t expected council leader David Lee to immediately start talking utter rubbish to the press. That probably shows that I should reassess my standards. Anyway, as soon as the results were in,  the Tory group leader was saying this to the Wokingham Times:

I’m a bit down because I think it would be difficult to do any more than we have done. We have definitely suffered a but from the whole waste thing. In all honesty, I think it’s rather unfair. We could’ve just done nothing, which is what a lot of people seem to think, and hike up the council tax.

It’s unfair, he says. I don’t know about you, but I read that in the voice of Kevin the Teenager (from Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry sketches).

All through the local election campaign, I was saying that the Conservatives were out of touch with ordinary people. I was saying that they didn’t understand, and worse didn’t care, about what the council was doing wrong. The Conservatives continually maintained that I was wrong, but I hadn’t expected their boss to go and out prove my point so spectacularly comprehensively immediately after the election was done.

Let’s just recap. The Conservatives lost two seats in Wokingham in the elections, one in Charvil and one in Winnersh. They still have a majority of 16 on the council. It was not the mass rejection of Tory councillors I had been hoping for, but I reckon Cllr Lee knows his party was largely saved by an abysmal turnout.

But the arrogance of refusing to admit that the council did, or could have done, anything wrong was something I hadn’t anticipated at all. Call me naive, perhaps.

Just for contrast, at the adjudication of questionable ballots for Remenham Wargrave and Ruscombe yesterday, one voter had placed a tick in the box for sitting Tory councillor John Halsall, along with the comment “Could do better“. John’s response was to nod sagely, and admit “That’s true.

David Lee thinks that there was nothing else he and his colleagues could have done. He quotes the council tax freeze, but still won’t admit the stealth taxes that many residents quickly rumbled him on. He seems to think that the new scheme is entirely fit for purpose, and presumably that the execution could have been better.

But he misses the main problem with the waste scheme: he didn’t ask anyone in Wokingham what they thought before he launched it. People don’t like being taken for idiots, and that’s exactly what David Lee has been doing. That is why he lost two seats, and that is why he was lucky not to lose more.

David thinks it’s unfair. Well, I agree. I agree: it’s incredibly unfair that Wokingham doesn’t have someone more humble, someone willing to listen and improve, and in short someone more worthy to lead it than him.

Wokingham Election Results – An Analysis

The results of Wokingham’s 2012 local elections are in…

I’ve had a few hours now to reflect on the results of the Wokingham local elections, and to do some some fancy arithmetic with the numbers to get a full picture of how the votes played out across the borough.

There were a total of 31,630 votes cast between the hours of 7am and 10pm in the borough as a whole. I don’t yet have the information on turnout, but it doesn’t seem terribly good- probably around 30%. The weather contributed to this, doubtless, but there has been a slump in turnout across the country.

Here is a table of information on the election, showing the number of seats won by each party, the gains that it means for them, the total votes they received, and how that stands as a percentage of the overall vote (Note: I’ve rounded the percentage figures to one decimal place, which is why the total comes to 100.1%).

Seats Gains Votes Percentage
CON 13 -2 15,345 48.5%
LD 4 +1 7,643 24.2%
LAB 0 0 3,862 12.2%
GREEN 0 0 2,378 7.5%
UKIP 0 0 1,733 5.5%
IND 1 +1 496 1.6%
Spoilt 183 0.6%

There were 18 seats up for election this year, which is a third of the council, and the Tories lost two. Somehow (think #wokyrubbish) the Liberal Democrats managed to buck the national trend, and actually gain a seat in Winnersh. The independent Nick Ray (about whom I know embarrassingly, well, nothing) taking Charvil from Tory incumbent Emma Hobbes was the shock of the day really.

Firstly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. I had held private hopes of Labour winning a seat- Greg Bello came agonisingly close in Bulmershe & Whitegates, and I maintain he would have been a superb representative. I’m also disappointed that I came third after a candidate who did no campaigning at all, but I did significantly increase my share of the vote. Thank you to everyone who came along to help me campaign, and especially to everyone who voted for me.

The results show, I think, Labour as the solid third party of the borough. The Greens get fourth place, largely out of the number of candidates they stood (they didn’t poll badly, but only Marjorie Bisset in Shinfield South posed any serious challenge). I’m still waiting for any signs of this supposed UKIP breakthrough.

There are several lessons I take from these results with regard to improving Labour’s performance. The first is that we need to stand a full slate of candidates. We can’t be seen as a credible challenger in the borough unless we’re fielding candidates all across it.

Secondly, there was a distinct lack of canvassing all across Wokingham. I worked hard knocking doors and distributing leaflets, and so did my opponents (well, one of them did). But many of the returned Conservative councillors didn’t do a thing by all accounts. There are so many votes that are there to be picked up, if only we could run even a minimal campaign- and not to mention a get the vote out operation.

The next election isn’t until 2014, so that gives us two years to look at what needs to be done, and take steps to do it. Labour is here in Wokingham, and we’re not going away any time soon.

Wokingham Local Election Results 2012

Bulmershe & Whitegates

Greg Bello (LAB) — 750 votes (28.4%)
Lesley Hayward (LD) — 976 votes (37.0%)
Bill Khan (UKIP) — 137 (5.2 %)
Mohammed Parvaiz (CON) — 660 votes (25.0%)
Adrian Windisch (GREEN) — 106 votes (4.0%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD


Emma Hobbs (CON) — 382 votes (43.2%)
James O’Callaghan (GREEN) — 44 votes (5.0%)
Nick Ray (Ind) — 414 votes (46.9%)
Malcolm Storry (LD) — 42 votes (4.8%)

Independent GAIN


UllaKarin Clark (CON) — 1,202 votes (55.9%)
Suresh Jeganathan (LD) — 291 votes (13.5%)
Steven McMillan (UKIP) — 330 votes (15.3%)
Paul Sharples (LAB) — 313 votes (14.6%)

Conservative HOLD


Dianne King (CON) — 967 votes (50.2%)
Steven Scarrott (LD) — 388 votes (20.1%)
Anthony Skuse (LAB) — 286 votes (14.8%)
Mike Spencer (UKIP) — 278 votes (14.4%)

Conservative HOLD

Finchampstead North

Martyn Foss (GREEN) — 124 votes (8.4%)
Mike Gore (CON) — 1,038 votes (69.9%)
Tim Jinkerson (LAB/CO-OP) — 193 votes (13.0%)
Roy Neall (LD) 121 votes (8.2%)

Conservative HOLD

Finchampstead South

Roland Cundy (LD) — 345 votes (24.1%)
Ian Pittock (CON) — 843 votes (59.0%)
Matthew Valler (GREEN) — 241 votes (16.9%)

Conservative HOLD


Guy Grandison (CON) — 688 votes (42.7%)
Peter Jackson (UKIP) — 142 votes (8.8%)
John Prior (GREEN) — 97 votes (6.0%)
Anthony Vick (LD) — 407 votes (25.2%)
Neville Waites (LAB) — 278 votes (17.2%)

Conservative HOLD


Helene Cherry (GREEN) — 241 votes (11.4%)
Pauline Jorgensen (CON) — 1,062 votes (50.5%)
David Sharp (LAB) — 317 votes (15.1%)
Keith Yabsley (LD) — 465 votes (22.1%)

Conservative HOLD


Paula Montie (GREEN) — 79 votes (10.1%)
Wayne Smith (CON)  — 562 votes (71.5%)
Paul Trott (LD) — 83 votes (10.6%)
Umesh Ummat (LAB) — 62 votes (7.9%)

Conservative HOLD


Tom Clark (LAB) — 303 votes (14.8%)
Tom McCann (LD) — 846 votes (41.4%)
Bill Soane (CON) — 751 votes (36.8%)
Julia Titus (GREEN) — 132 votes (6.5%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD

Maiden Erlegh

David Hare (LD) — 528 votes (24.9%)
Nicholas Marshall (GREEN) — 238 votes (11.2%)
Ken Miall (CON) — 966 votes (45.6%)
Jacqueline Rupert (LAB) — 373 votes (17.6%)

Conservative HOLD


John Bray (LD) — 268 votes (13.7%)
Mary Gascoyne (LAB) — 315 votes (16.1%)
Emma-Louise Hamilton (GREEN) — 120 votes (6.1%)
Keith Knight (UKIP) — 212 votes (10.8%)
Malcolm Richards (CON) — 959 votes (49.0%)
Robin Smith (IND) — 82 votes (4.2%)

Conservative HOLD

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Martin Alder (LD) — 248 votes (18.1%)
Matthew Dent (LAB/CO-OP — 172 votes (12.6%)
John Halsall (CON) — 937 votes (68.5%)

Conservative HOLD

Shinfield South

Marjory Bisset (GREEN) — 473 votes (31.4%)
Charlotte Haitham Taylor (CON) — 893 votes (59.3%)
Imogen Shepherd-Dubey (LD) — 141 votes (9.4%)

Conservative HOLD


James Ewan (GREEN) – 118 votes (6.5 %)
Lindsay Ferris (LD) — 1,011 votes (55.3%)
Richard Fort (LAB) — 159 votes (8.7%)
Sam Hawkins (CON) — 527 votes (28.8%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD


Stella Howell (UKIP) — 135 votes (10.1%)
James Leask (LD) — 158 votes (11.9%)
Kazek Lokuciewski (GREEN) — 187 votes (14.0%)
John Woodward (LAB) — 166 votes (12.5%)
Bob Wyatt (CON) — 679 votes (51.0%)

Conservative HOLD


Mark Ashwell (CON) — 961 votes (38.2%)
John Baker (LAB) — 175 votes (7.0%)
Tony Pollock (UKIP) — 183 votes (7.3%)
Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey (LD) — 1,183 votes (47.1%)

Liberal Democrat GAIN

Wokingham Without

Thomas Blomley (GREEN) — 178 votes (9.3%)
Pauline Helliar-Symons (CON) — 1,268 votes (66.0%)
Elaine Spratling (LD) — 147 votes (7.7%)
Graham Widdows (UKIP) — 316 votes (16.5%)

Conservative HOLD

Five reasons not to vote Conservative today (or why Eric Pickles is wrong)

Nope, sorry Eric! Wrong on all five counts!

I wasn’t going to do any more election blogging, but when I saw Eric Pickles “5 Reasons to vote Conservative today” post on ConservativeHome, I just couldn’t help myself. Here are each of Eric’s points in turn, why he is wrong, and why you shouldn’t vote Conservative in the borough of Wokingham today.

1) Conservatives deliver better quality, better value local services… More Conservative councils have frozen council tax this year than Labour councils.

Yes, Wokingham have frozen council tax. But that freeze was made possible by a one-off grant from central government. This will almost certainly not be repeated next year, which means that council tax will have to go up by at least 2.5%- just for funding to stay at the same level.

And that’s even before we get to the massive stealth tax that the council introduced under the guise of a new rubbish scheme.

2) Conservative councils have been at the forefront of the transparency agenda, opening up their books and finances to public scrutiny.

Transparency my foot. Do you remember the budget? Do you remember how the council executive only released it the statutory week before the vote, whereas other authorities had released it months earlier for scrutiny by residents and opposition parties? And maybe you remember that it was simply voted through, with a minimum of debate, and no opportunity for proper examination.

Judging from this, the Conservatives were going all out to make sure there was no public scrutiny of how they were spending public money.

3) Councils account for a quarter of all public spending, and need to do their bit to help pay off Labour’s deficit.

This doesn’t play too well next to council leader Cllr David Lee’s near-constant bleatings about being the worst funded council in the country. If we’re supposed to be cutting back even harder, why does he always seem to be begging for more money? Also, the notion of there being no money left sits ill next to Eric Pickles’ slush funds for weekly bin collections and short-term tax giveaways- all of which seem calculated to give the Tories something to crow about at election time, having achieved nothing all year long.

Don’t believe the lies.

4) Conservative councils are cutting municipal non-jobs like town hall ‘pilgrims’ and waste like town hall pravadas.

I’m not sure who exactly Wokingham have been cutting, but they don’t seem to have been left with a particularly brilliant crop. The local government officers in charge of the bins, in particular, don’t seem to have covered themselves in glory of late.

And as for these “town hall pravadas” (I can only presume he means “pravda”, a reference to the newspaper of the Soviet Union), one of the biggest complaints about the new rubbish scheme was that nobody knew it was coming. People didn’t know there was a new scheme, and they didn’t know their collection day had changed.

I guess we can thank the Tories for that, then.

5) This Government is devolving significant new powers to local councils…Conservatives can be trusted to use these powers well.

You’ve got to be kidding me? Trust them? I don’t trust them with the powers they’ve got at the moment. So far, Wokingham Conservatives have:

  • Introduced a completely unworkable bin scheme as a cover for a stealth tax.
  • Launched a plan to sell off the libraries, without asking anyone.
  • Closed all of the public toilets in the borough.
  • Threatened to close and sell off care homes.
  • Wasted £90,000 on a PR exercise, and God knows how much in the end on the regeneration of Wokingham Town Centre.
  • Ignored the views of residents at every turn.

Would you trust them with more power. I wouldn’t.

Please, don’t vote Conservative today. Send a message that Wokingham deserves better, that it deserves a council that will listen to it, and act in its best interests.

Rain Stopped Play

Campaigning in the rain: not fun, but sometimes necessary.

The last few days have been a bit glum, campaigning wise. The rain, whilst good for drought-dried aquifers and budding allotments, is not really a door-knocking candidate’s best friend.

I’ve done campaigning in the rain before, and can tell you that it’s a pretty miserable experience. True, you do sometimes get the pitying resident who perhaps has more time to hear what you have to say because the effort you’re making is more obvious. But on the whole, you just end up wet, miserable and a little dejected.

I’ve already leafleted most of Wargrave now, and was planning to get stuck into the Ruscombe area of the ward this week. Given the weather, and my asthma annoyingly flaring up after a few months’ abeyance, I’ve decided to take a more cautious approach. Rest assured, Ruscombe residents, I will get to you. And in the meantime, you can read my leaflet here.

Of the competition: there is a Tory leaflet going around Wargrave at least. I’m not sure how far it’s propagated, certainly not as far as me, but it does exist. If any kind Wargrave resident wants to provide me with pictures, I’d be much obliged.

On the yellow side of things, I’ve seen absolutely nothing from Martin Alder. It’s a little disappointing really, since he put out three leaflets in last summer’s by-election. It’s pure speculation, but I guess that the Lib Dems might be struggling for resources at the moment, and with three councillors standing down have decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Weather has an impact on election results beyond just it’s effect on campaigning. Bad weather will dissuade many from going out to vote, reducing the turnout and potentially drastically distorting the vote. This tends to be unpredictable as to who it advantages- though certainly not representative democracy- but usually those incensed through anger or high passion will be the ones who make the effort.

On the one hand, this is a fairly solidly Conservative ward. On the other, the Tories have done their darnedest to annoy people. At this stage, I’m not even going to try and call it. But if the rain keeps up I may be forced to done the waterproof, take up the umbrella, and hit the campaign trail once more.

But at least it’s good for the potatoes!

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 ElectionLeaflets.org, 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!

Grant Shapps Fobs Wokingham Off

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed government minister Grant Shapps to ask about the Wokingham bin collection scheme. The answer that I received was less than inspirational...

This is a response to a letter I sent to Department of Communities and Local Government minister Grant Shapps MP a few weeks ago, regarding specific comments he had made, quoted in a national newspaper, about Wokingham’s new waste collection scheme.

Dear Mr Dent,

Thank you for your email of 25 March to Mr Shapps about charging for green waste. Your email has been passed to Defra as the Department responsible for this policy area and I have been asked to reply.

I am sorry you are unhappy with your council’s revised policy on green waste collections. Nevertheless the Government believes that it is for local authorities to take these decisions, working at a local level with their residents, to provide the best collection service for their area taking into account the needs and priorities of their communities. At the same time, the Government has set a clear expectation that it wants to make it easier for people to do the right thing, recycle more and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

While your council tax does include an element for the provision of a household waste collection service, there are also some recognised exceptions for which councils are entitled to levy additional fees, most notably for bulky waste, such as furniture or white goods, and garden waste. This is in recognition of the fact that these types of waste may require a different or additional collection, as well as not necessarily being required for every household. The power to charge for these items is set out in the Controlled Waste Regulations.

However, it remains the decision of the local council whether to exercise the power to charge for green waste collections, as part of their wider waste collection service. As such, if you are dissatisfied with their decision then you should discuss the matter with your local authority.

Yours sincerely,

Rosie Gridley

Defra – Customer Contact Unit

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

The astute amongst you may have noticed that this email is not from Grant Shapps. Nor is it from his secretary, his subordinate, or anyone at the same department as him. My initial query was about specific assurances he had made. If he was speaking outside of his brief then, so be it, but his comments surely cannot be the responsibility of another department?

Also, this email doesn’t answer the points I raised. I suspect it was copied and pasted in, as a more general response to rubbish-themed questions. But I highlighted a specific quotation from Grant Shapps about which I was asking specific questions. Namely, that he said he would stop such stealth taxes, and what he intended to do to stop Wokingham enforcing one.

It’s safe to say that I’m not satisfied with this response, and will be following it up.

5 Reasons the Wokingham Bin Debacle isn’t Labour’s Fault

It seems hard to place the blame for the mess WBC have made of the new bin scheme at anyone's door by the Tory council leaders.

I’m a great fan of the letters page of the Wokingham Times. It is one of the few places that the opinions of the general public of Wokingham can be found pretty much uncensored. This week, a letter from a Mr Patrick Smith caught my eye. It was a response to my own letter about the ongoing bin collection mess, and he had a somewhat different idea of who was to blame:

…what did make me laugh was reading the letter from Mr S Dent of the Twyford & District Labour Party criticising the Conservative-led borough council regarding the waste collection farce (The Wokingham Times, Wednesday, March 28).

The reason that councils all over the UK are struggling with finance and so need to raise more funds is because the Labour Government left this once great country with billions of pounds of debt.

So Mr Dent, perhaps you should stop trying to score silly little political points against the Conservatives.

So here it is. My response, and explanation of blame for this mess cannot be left at the door of the Labour Party.

  1. Labour are not in power in Wokingham. I don’t believe they ever have been. Maybe someone knows otherwise and can correct me, but certainly they have not during my lifetime. I cannot even find the last time that Labour even had a councillor in Wokingham, and that informational warehouse Wikipedia has the council exclusively blue and yellow as far back as 1999, and under Conservative control since 1997.
  2. The deficit only exists because of the neccessity of dealing with the economic crisis. Mr Smith’s argument seems to be that Labour caused the deficit, the deficit is why there’s no money, which is why we’re facing the new bin scheme. Even following his logic, he ignores why the deficit is there in the first place. When the banks went into crisis in 2008, a £500bn bailout package was necessary to save the economy. At the same time, the tax take plummeted, resulting in an increasing gap between spending and income. I’m not going to say Labour got everything right (we didn’t), but the deficit was a product of necessity, not as the Tories claim due to Labour profligacy.
  3. The scheme is (ostensibly) not about money, but about recycling. Despite Mr Smith’s accusation that the deficit (and need to cut it) is to blame, the claim from the council has consistently been that we’re doing this to increase recycling, not save money on collection. From the very start, I’ve said that they are going about this the wrong way, limiting landfill whilst not notably expanding recycling provision. I have argued for a massive expansion in the range of materials recyclable, and changes to make it easier for residents to recycle.
  4. The Tory-led coalition has chosen to front-load cuts to local government. Given that Labour are in power neither in local nor national government, Mr Smith should take a look at how Eric Pickles and chums are dealing with local government budgets. The cuts to budgets have been “front-loaded”, meaning that the majority of cuts had to be made at the beginning of the 5 year electoral cycle. If Mr Smith still believes the changes to bin collection are down to money, then maybe this political decision is where he should be looking to.
  5. The local Labour party have been trying to sort out this mess. Since the genesis of this scheme I have been arguing that it wouldn’t work. I (and many others) have pointed out many of the problems that have come to beset it, and have been trying to pressure the Conservatives to address them (to no avail). When it all went Pete Tong, the Tories went into hiding, whilst Labour and other opposition parties were arguing for solutions.

I don’t believe I have been making “silly little political points” against the Conservatives. As Mr Smith himself admits, the scheme is a farce. It is, I am afraid, a farce entirely of the Conservatives’ own making. It is real, it is happening, and it is affecting residents. Whilst the points I have been raising are undoubtedly “political”, the feedback I have had from most residents is that they neither “silly” nor “little”- and all the Conservatives have done in response has been run and hide.

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.