One slow night

White Van Image from Rochester By Election 2014Stayed up last Thursday night to see the result of the Rochester and Strood by-election, absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons but at one point I tweeted about the slowness of the count and how I recalled many an evening on my feet watching other equally slow counts and was so pleased to be on my sofa for this one, flicking as I did between the BBC and Sky coverage to stave off the boredom.

Firstly as someone interested in the use of social media it still surprises at the increasing importance of these things, quite quick and easy to use and to make mistakes, particularly for Labour’s shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry who ended her shadow ministerial career with one of the shortest tweets possible and a picture. Crass, yes and apparently Ed Miliband was ‘Professor Angry’ not so much for the picture or words but because it touches at their real sensitivity about UKIP’s lesser success but still very worrying for Labour in gaining a tradition Labour working class vote in addition to the conservative right flank. Not to mention in a by-election where they hoped the headlines would be about UKIP and Conservatives but it turned out that they had the front pages to themselves, you just could not make this stuff up!

But if you look at it another way it is even more damaging, to me the of the reasons some people are voting UKIP is not Europe, not immigration but because they look a bit more real and human that the Westminster Parties, they are not always on message, they make mistakes and some people like them for it, some people can more easily identify with them and that is important in politics, of course Farage knows and drives this home on a constant basis, but such an overreaction to one tweet rather makes the point for him.

The turn-out at 50.67% was high for a by-election but well below a general election, the truth of the matter is that at the 2010 election UKIP failed to carry forward their 2009 European Election vote share, in May 2015 it will be fascinating to see if it holds this time as the general election arrives and importance of keeping Labour out hits home.

Speaking of making mistakes, this week Mark Reckless was not beyond making a gaff himself having to ‘clarify’ his words on what would happen to European migrants if the UK withdrew from the EU, not that it overtly hurt him at the ballot box, which is my earlier point. However it’s interesting how these things are always expressed in terms of Europeans living and working in the UK (and of course what they really mean is ‘taking our jobs’) and little is spoken of the millions of Britons who live and work in Europe including a couple of my mates and their families, a small but important point, ‘quid pro quo’ and all that?

During the course of the count Sky interviewed the Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett whom I shared a platform with a couple of weeks ago and as she spoke, her words seemed to confirm that the Green Party seem increasingly to be positioning itself to the left of Labour.

Mark Reckless won but not of course with quite the sensational result of Clacton, but hey he’s no Douglas Carswell is he, nor is Rochester the same as Clacton, one small silver lining was of course the Liberal vote collapse with them getting dangerously close to polling less than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

There is no doubt that UKIP do struck a cord with many people but in the white heat of a general election I suspect UKIP’s lack of a broad range of actual policies will, in part, be their undoing, equally as much as UKIP would like the election to be about immigration and EU membership, it won’t, it will predominately be about the economy and on that issue the Conservative message could not be stronger and Labour’s could not be more scary! Having said that it does increasingly look that, as life gets more complex, so does our politics and over the next few months the potential and debate about the smaller parties to be king makers on May 8th will have as much air time as the economy, Farage will argue that UKIP can hold the balance of power, so vote UKIP, but he will simply not have enough MPs with other bigger parties far more likely to be the king makers, whatever happens the next 7 months will be fascinating.

Seaside Fun

Polling StationToday is, for many, the start of the new school year and in some ways this is true of Local Government as well, this first week of September is when the Councillors come back after summer holidays and focus on the budget setting process. Of course just as soon as the previous year’s budget is put to bed the process starts again but the follow February always seems to loom larger once the summer is out of the way.

Speaking of things that loom larger, this coming year is also election year at both the local district and national level.

At FHDC we Conservatives are now firmly in the manifesto stage of looking at our strong track record of delivery over the past four years and just what can we put forward as our platform for the coming term and I hope to play a full and active part in that process.

As always there are somewhat bigger issues about and principally South Yorkshire should be a focus for Councillors across the country as the failings of Children’s services at Rotherham and terrible abuse that has taken place is investigated, rightly it should have been the entire focus of last week’s domestic news agenda but as Harold Macmillan once famously said “Events, dear boy, events”, and last week’s surprise announcement by Douglas Carswell was certainly one of those. In some ways not that much of a surprise as he was the bookie’s favour to be the first to cross to UKIP, given his views, but it certainly was a moment.

As Nigel Farage said in his various interviews last week it’s a defining moment for UKIP, some would say the Conservative Party but not me. Let’s face it beyond the decision to defect, Douglas Carswell decision to stand down and seek re-election is a calculated move. If he crossed the floor and did not go to the polls he would simply have been swept aside by a high general election turn out in a strong Conservative seat in 2015. Now he’ll use the by-election, the armies of political supporters it brings and the nature of by-elections so close to a general election being about sending messages to the incumbent government, to try to keep his job.

If the polling out there is to be believed and one poll had a swing to UKIP from Conservatives at 44% coupled with a lower turn out as always occurs, however much the various parties encourage people to vote, then he may well do precisely that. But that does not deflect from the core message residents of Clacton and voters across country have to face up to at the general election ‘Vote UKIP and get Labour’, by-elections are one thing  but top slice the Conservative vote in marginal seats in May 2015 and Labour will be the only winners. One maverick MP, one by-election, all the excitement of the ‘political fairground’ that will be going on in Clacton however much it will fill the news agenda of the coming weeks does not change this simple fact.

So for all the fun to come, the serious issue remains the Economy and the danger that 5 years after almost bankrupting this county the very same people are proposing to get the keys back. Equally Labour would not hold a referendum and anyone who wants the question of Europe resolved knows, as will take place in Oct 2017 if a Conservative Government is returned, we need a referendum. Firstly to allow David Cameron to have the leverage to re-negotiate terms and secondly for the issue to be put to the vote once and for all. A vote for UKIP in May 2015 would have the possibility to achieve the exact opposition of what UKIP want, what’s that saying – ‘it’s a funny old world’.

Voters Choice in the Euro elections

Whatever you think about Europe, there is no doubt that UKIP will have a good set of European elections here in the East. As I said in my blog yesterday the key for Conservatives rests on two things, one true of all elections and all parties getting our core voters out and the other I would say is how people view the Referendum promise.

Last week in Haverhill’s St. Edmunds Borough Council by-election quite a lot of people vote UKIP perhaps beyond their simply articulation on Europe it is of course convenient to peg it to this or that but you can’t ignore 54% of the vote share and to do so is a mistake. On politics in general they, like liberals before them, do not have to deal with the complexity of actually having to potentially run the country and they seek to represent a point of view to return to some sort of ‘how it used to be’ and whilst I do not think they are a racist party, they do tap into a cohort of people who are a bit shocked at the pace of change they see in their community. I personally welcome all people if they can contribute to our communities and I think that predominately those who have made this area home are hardworking and add to the rich diversity of our communities by I do recognize the sheer change in our market town and high streets with the variety of ethic shops is tough for some in our community to get their heads around.

Also I think it fair to say UKIP have, since the Liberals joined coalition government, become the party of protest, hovering up right wing conservative votes and liberals who are really a sort of protest cohort the liberals used to tap into but have found it increasingly difficult since they had to face the harsh reality of having to actually seek to delivery on some of their policies in coalition! And in this vein they seem to be picking up a, albeit smaller, cohort of Labour supporters who hark back to an imaginary better time.

So how to engage the electorate in the coming election and how to get across the conservative message. Vote Conservative and signal we want to continue to work hard to reform the EU and that you want a referendum where you get to vote whatever your views, for it gives David Cameron the leverage he needs in Europe to renegotiate the terms of our relationship with Europe and then for the first time we the British people can fully and openly debate this subject properly, a debate which will be rigorous on both sides of the argument, which is precisely how we as a nation make good decisions.

or:

Vote UKIP and signal out and hang the consequences. But even if you do, whatever you do, do not vote UKIP in 2015 because you will simply let Labour win, we saw this in Norfolk and look what an absolute mess Norfolk County Council are in with its rainbow hiatus.

Vote Labour and signal continue with membership as is (although I wonder if that will change in the run in to the General Election, if the conservative referendum starts to gather up voters)

Vote Liberal and err. I think it’s in or would you prefer out, we are nothing if not flexible in the pursuit of power, just look at their track record in coalition!

All Councils are equal but some are more equal than others

Last Thursday Local Government watched and pondered what fresh challenge George Osborne was going to put to us in his autumn statement. As it was, much of what has been said to government by various Local Government figures not least Sir Merrick Cockell, Chairman of the LGA that Councils that as a sector are, over the next 4 years, starting to reach the end of the level of savings it can make without having to look at front line services; this seems to be beginning to be accepted in government circles, which is probably the reasons why on balance local government was broadly left alone and not subject to the further cuts announced. The danger with this comment is that it can be misconstrued as the pressures off which it most certainly is not, the savings Suffolk County Council has to make of £156million of the next 4 year period are significant particularly coming on the back of the previous savings requirement of £90 million, which we have achieved, all at the same time of 3 years of no Council Tax increase and our commitment to no increases in the next 4 years.

Yet if you talk with ministers and highlight the good work we have been doing in Suffolk – such as the joining up of the back offices of most of the Districts and Boroughs. Minsters will say, yes good work, but there are still far too many councils in this county who simply are not getting the message. Of course we don’t have to look very far just look at Labour controlled Ipswich Borough Council who as always say they are for the people usually just before they push up the Council tax, whereas every other Suffolk Council finds ways to freeze it.

Further afield I was reminded of this at the weekend when I was in Barnsley, a Labour dominated Metropolitan Council, I was driving along when I saw a large black stretched new 7 Series BMW with the number plate ‘THE 1’ and a Chauffeur, I turned to my partner Lisa’s brother and said who’s car is that and was told ‘oh that’s the Mayor’s car!’, I honestly though he was joking until I saw the council logo on the side!

OK I admit Suffolk County Council does have some Ford Fiesta pool cars for the staff to use to get to meetings, but when you see a spectacular like that on the streets of Barnsley you sort of have to agree with Ministers. So whilst all councils are working hard to protect your hard earned council tax monies and finding ways to make the savings required; some Council bosses are doing it from the back of a Chauffeur driven stretched limo with a £500k personal plate!

Manifesto time

So I’ve had a good read through all the manifesto’s from the Greens wish list to Labour’s uncosted nonsense; only one still to come and surprise, surprise (and I checked goggle and their out of date web site this morning but still nothing) it is the Liberals but given their track record and the complete lack of effort they put into each year’s County budget process we can probably expect a side of A4 maybe the day before the election!

Also seen various from UKIP which reflects what my moles at Monday night’s UKIP meeting in Brandon have been saying about when Nigel Farage spoke, his passion was totally focused on immigration and Europe and frankly he seemed disinterested in local government other than a means to promote his party. These elections are not about immigration and Europe those are national issues. This is the county council local government elections and it’s about local services, protecting our rural bus services, repairing our roads, ensuring our council ‘lives within its means’ and the Council tax you pay; not Europe and European migration, that’s next year with the European elections.

So from the Greens we have a few points that are, as is their two man party in the Council Chamber one deep red, one deep green and between them they have produced a schizophrenic mixture of socialist dogma and the somewhat idealistic deep green agenda.

As for Labour’s, well take a good dollop (don’t you just love that word dollop) of socialist dogma, some things we’d all like to do but don’t have the money to and most importantly mix it all together with lashings of amnesia – at times, just as in the Council Chamber over the past 4 years, it’s as if the economic situation has completely past them by, it’s as if the cut in government grant is an optional thing, it’s as if 13 years of Labour’s fiscal madness never happened – recession what recession!

So many lovely things we’d all love to do but how can I put this simply:

We don’t have the money and the government is given us less and less of it each year!

But wait a minute – hey you do! What about all that lovely money you the Council tax payers have stashed away?

Time for Labour to come clean – what would it be this time? a repeat of the last time they were in power with the liberals in Suffolk? 11.9% Council Tax rise followed by an 18.5% rise the very next year? or just go for the 30% increase in one easy step!?

Budget day 2013 – 10th Anniversary of Liberal and Labour Council Tax raids.

On Budget day 2002 the Liberals and Labour who controlled the County Council put the Council tax up by 11.9% and just as people were struggling to adjust to that hike they ‘came a knocking’ again and hiked it up by 18.5% in 2003, a staggering over 30% hike in two years.

So ten years on have they learned anything? – I think not.

Last Thursday as the opposition tried to counter our announcement that if elected we will Freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next 4 year term, and as they spectacularly failed to come up with a response. There were some very interesting insights to opposition attitude towards the hard earn money of Suffolk Council Tax payers; perhaps the most bizarre intervention came from Cllr. Ereira who said such a move would be the death nail of local government, to my mind the County Council is the servant of the people of Suffolk and they are telling us loud and clear to ‘live within your means’; perhaps Cllr. Ereira and others think that regardless of how tight money is for hard pressed families and pensioners on fixed incomes trying to deal with rising food and energy prices, the County Council should sail serenity on rather than meet the challenges this time presents shoulder to shoulder with residents, head on.

In my seconder speech I reminded the opposition of this dark anniversary and they seemed rather annoyed that I did so, which I can quite understand!, afterall this is an anniversary that all Liberal and Labour Councillors would want to brush such appauling behaviour under the carpet; 10 years ago there were financial pressures but compared to today’s more of a ‘storm in a tea cup’ in comparison.

But at that time, rather than listen to people and demand and lead the Council to live within it’s means; it was a time they demostrated such little regard for people hard earned money trying to cope with such massive rises in Council Tax, instead the residents of Suffok were seen as an easy ‘Cash cow’, rather than do the tough stuff we have since they were kicked out of power, making the organisation more and more effeicent finding new ways fo working and demanding that every single cost line to examined and reduced.

So the question, as we face the election and people have a choice to make, is, have the Liberals and Labour learned to respect people hard earned money thay pay in Council Tax?

Well, in November 2012 we announced that we would be proposing the freeze the Council tax in 2013 for the third year running at 0%; Cllr. Wood, the leader of the opposition, said in the East Anglia Daily Times and I quote “Looking back it’s a good job the rate did rise all those years ago…”

Frankly I think that says it all.

People have a choice to make on 2nd May and I think it’s a simple one, do you want a County Council that protects front line services, protects hard pressed families and pensioners as they struggle to pay their household bills and has a mantra that ‘this Council will live within its means’ or not.

A rainy day in Norwich

On Friday evening I got lots of texts and twitter comment’s after my fleeting appearance on the national BBC Six O’clock news saying I looked glum at the results at the Norwich City Count.

The VT was a bit unfair as just out of shot was a one of our candidates who had collapsed as we were leaving in the early hours of Friday morning and was been attended by Emergency Services paramedic we called, I was turning around and not glum but concerned for his health and there was the camera!

The loss of Great Yarmouth was a big disappointment particularly when you see how hard Steve and the Conservative Team have worked to improve the town, we can only hope that the Great Yarmouth Labour party are less useless than the Norwich Labour party who ‘help’ run Norwich City Council so badly.

As we campaigned I was genuinely shocked at the state of Norwich City Council’s housing stock, when I think of the level of investment that Registered Social Housing providers are putting into the standards of their stock for their tenants, the Labour group on Norwich City Council should be hounded from office, not voted for.

In Norwich North I got the real sense that our voters were not minded to come out to vote as a sort of policy of non-co-operation but that the Labour party vote was well motivated, there is nothing new about this phenomenon but I know how frustrating it is for candidates who are determined to try to change the Council, to not be able to get a foothold or in the case of Great Yarmouth continue their excellent work.In Ipswich we won the county seat which was a silver lining on an otherwise cloudy day.

Mervin King said before the last election the party that wins the next election will not win the one after that, given the scale of what they have to do and the economic climate they have to do it in. This weekend we saw France and Greece be wowed by the ‘crisis what crisis’ brigade and it will certainly be interesting to look back at the crash of 2007 and the recession that followed and see who was right.

Who says there is not real differences in the Political parties, on the one hand you have the kitchen table economics of the Conservatives whereby when money is short you must however painful ‘tighten your belt’ and the Labour Party’s spend, spend, spend your way to a better tomorrow! Time will tell, but somehow the first just seems right to me.

I shall continue to campaign to get this important message across, and the important fact that however tight the money I shall continue to demand that the councils I represent my community on delivering good services with less money and keeping the Council tax to a 0% increase, again and again.

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