Surrey Tory Councillors Vote to Stifle Democracy


I was in the public gallery at today’s full council meeting of Surrey County Council in the London Borough of Kingston, just outside Surrey. The first hour was spent electing the new Tory chair of the council, unopposed, and general back-slapping.

Regular readers will be aware of my campaign to reverse the outrageous pay hike which Tory councillors awarded themselves last year. Interestingly, the outgoing chair of the council refused to accept his 20% pay hike and gave it to charity. This was covered in the press here: http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/surrey-county-council-chairman-david-7222891

I have written to the new chair, Cllr Sally Marks, to ask if she will be doing the same thing. Here is the email I sent:

email to scc chair

Tory councillors voted to stifle opposition's right to address council

Tory councillors voted to stifle opposition’s right to address council

After forcing through their money-grab last year, Tories on the council voted to change the constitution this year to give them the power to limit opposition motions at council meetings. The new chair refused to allow a vote on lowering the threshold number of signatures which petitions need to be debated at the council. The whole thing was forced through with Tory votes (and the one Green councillor) and there is nothing that the opposition councillors (Labour, Independent, Residents Association, Ukip and Lib Dem) can do about it. Last year was money-grab, this year it’s power-grab.

The leader of the council, Cllr David Hodge, was his usual snarling thin-skinned self. He gloated about the Tory win in the general election. He has put in place a plan (which was also waved through by the Tory majority) to rename the scrutiny committees “boards” and have them meet less often. The Tory chairs and vice-chairs will retain the full, controversially inflated, special responsibility allowances which they voted themselves last year.

The Communities Select Committee has been laughably renamed the “Residents Experience Board”. It retains the same remit but now has this management bingo style name which will be an insult to the users and employees of the council’s libraries and fire stations and other services. Labour’s Cllr Robert Evans pointed out to Cllr Hodge that he was leaving the council open to ridicule by renaming the committee like this. Hodge was visibly rattled and said, “Well, Labour didn’t win the election, um. Ha, maybe it was because they, um, didn’t have a Residents Experience, um, committee [sic]”.

These buffoons are what we are up against in Surrey. The council started at 10am and adjourned for lunch at 12.15pm until 2pm for more self-congratulatory back-slapping among the Tories. Meanwhile, social care, bus services and school places are being cut and our county’s roads are the most potholed in the country.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can take them on. I am considering setting up a campaign group to fight for residents of Surrey against reactionary Tory rule both at County Hall and Westminster. I don’t want to have meetings, not even one, just campaigning events. Let me know if you are in. Let’s give the Surrey Tory Party an “experience” they’ll never forget!

UPDATE 20 MAY

Cllr Marks has replied to my email:

email from sally marks

I don’t understand why being a Christian means she shouldn’t give back money obtained inappropriately from the council tax payers of Surrey. She “helps those in need” by voting herself a 20% pay rise and hiking council tax every year while support for those least able to pay it is slashed. “Those in need” have to take food out of the mouths of their children to pay for Cllr Marks’ allowances because her government cut Council Tax Support.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when religious Tories try to justify their greed and heartless disregard for the most disadvantaged in society.

Homage to Guildford


The UK general election of 7 May 2015 was momentous.

Richard Wilson and Guildford CLP Chair Lynda MacDermott

Richard Wilson and Guildford CLP Chair Lynda MacDermott

Even back in November 2013 it was clear that this would be a big one. About 18 months ago, I was selected to be the Labour Party candidate to contest the seat of Guildford.

I grew up a few miles away from the birthplace of Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party, so it was a special honour for me to represent his party in Surrey, the county which has been my home for 15 years. I was selected by the party members in Guildford in a “one member one vote” ballot.

I decided to stand for Parliament because I wanted to contribute the most I could. People deserve a credible Labour candidate to vote for wherever they live. I chose to put myself forward for selection in Guildford because I live about 5 miles away, the local party has a (deserved) reputation for being welcoming, and there are numerous national issues which touch the constituency and should be debated in an election.

This was the first time I had attempted to be selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) and looking back with the benefit of hindsight I am sure I did the right thing. My preconceptions about what it would be like were mostly wrong, however. I had been involved in many previous council elections and I helped out in other constituencies like Eastleigh and Reading East. Also, I did lots of Labour Party training webinars, asked advice and read what I could find on being a candidate. I still wasn’t prepared.

I wasted a huge amount of my time and energy trying to achieve small campaign objectives which proved impossible. We also made massive progress on other objectives with relatively little effort. If I had known then what I know now I could have focused on the achievable. I think this is my only regret.

It is difficult being a PPC while working full time but my employer was quite good about it. This is just a feature of our system of democracy. People say they want MPs who have done other jobs but, in reality, insiders will always have an advantage. I gave up most of my free time but that is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining about that.

The highlights of the local campaign were: my petition to reverse the Tory county councillors’ pay hike, the individually addressed election leaflets I designed which 73,000 voters received in the post, the 11 public hustings events, owning the Guildford farmers market, helping Tesco employees on their “Freedom from Fear” day, marching with striking teachers on the High Street, standing alongside midwives and other NHS workers on the picket line outside the Royal Surrey, speaking at the council to stop the Lib Dems closing down the much-loved Boileroom music and arts venue, making a speech at the Labour Party annual conference, social media wars with Tories, door-knocking, leafleting and, above all, bringing great new active campaigners into the Labour Party.

2015-05-04 11.08.33 Collage

The culmination of all that saw a massive increase in our vote, up by 132%. Our share of the vote rose by 7 percentage points to 12.1%. No one thought we could finish ahead of Ukip but we were well clear of them. We are now within striking distance of the Lib Dems. The last time Labour beat them in Guildford was 1979 and it looks like this will happen again soon.

skynews

My elation at the result of the campaign in Guildford is tempered, of course, by the very disappointing national results. We didn’t make the gains we expected in marginal seats and we lost nearly all of our seats in Scotland. I have read plenty of analyses of what we did wrong and I nod my head in agreement while reading all of them.

Personally, I still feel too close to the election to analyse it objectively. One thing does leap out at me: targeting didn’t work. I expected that Labour would outperform decisively in key seats. We didn’t. This is important not just because we didn’t gain these seats but also because of the opportunity cost. By focusing on key seats we sacrificed the opportunity to build up our support in safe Tory and even safe Labour seats. We narrowed our appeal instead of broadening it.

There is nothing wrong with our values, on the contrary. I don’t even think there was anything important wrong with our policies in the manifesto. It was our national campaign that was, with hindsight, fatally flawed. It was like an exam where we failed not because we didn’t swot enough but because we didn’t answer the right questions – the ones the public was asking. The first thing to remember when doing an exam is: read the question!

I haven’t decided which candidates to vote for in the leader and deputy leader elections. I will listen to what they have to say about broadening our appeal and achieving a mandate to govern the entire country.

Sincere thanks to all of the 6,534 people who voted for me in Guildford. I’m so grateful to all of the Labour volunteers who made the local campaign possible. There are too many to name them all but the chair of Guildford Labour Party, Lynda MacDermott, deserves special recognition for leading the “ground war” from the front. I feel that the Guildford Labour Party is in a strong position to lead the fight for all the people of Guildford who are suffering under the Tory government.

For me, the campaign goes on. People in Surrey need an effective opposition to stand up for them against the Tories more than ever. Every council tax payer in Surrey is being failed by Surrey County Council. The council election is in 2017 but the full council is tomorrow and I’ll be in the public gallery again.

Surrey might be the height of Tory-dom on earth but I believe that there will be a Labour MP here in my lifetime. I will strive to make that happen and I will always be proud of my part in the momentous election of 2015.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” – JFK

From Gallipoli to Guildford


Sgt S Fitz

My great-grandfather Sgt S Fitz. I’m told I look like him.

I watched a bit of the ceremony at the Cenotaph today marking 100 years since the start of the Gallipoli campaign in the first world war. My great-grandfather was there, 100 years ago, as an infantry sergeant. It made me wonder what he thought of the war then and what he would make of Britain and the world today.

Back then, he wouldn’t have thought of it as the first world war. To the men thrown into the slaughter it must have seemed like the war to end all wars, or to end the world. They must have thought that the whole world order must surely change now. The empires and the aristocrats must surely come tumbling down after creating such a man-made tragedy of death and destruction.

What would my great-grandfather, Sgt S Fitz, have thought if he had known in 1915 that another world war was just 24 years away? What would he have thought if he could see the dukes and the earls leading ceremonies at Remembrance Days? What would he think about his great-grandson being an airline captain and standing for Parliament for the Labour Party?

Sometimes, we all have struggles in our lives, or think we have done something courageous. I will be thinking of my great-grandfather when the election result in Guildford is declared on 8 May 2015 and remember where he was exactly 100 years before.

Official: List of Parliamentary Candidates in Guildford


nominations1

I am very proud indeed to be officially a Labour Party parliamentary candidate. I am very grateful to everyone who nominated me and especially to my agent, Nick Trier, for completing the nomination process diligently and successfully.

I grew up a few miles from the birthplace of Keir Hardie, one of the key founders of the Labour Party. It is a great honour to follow in the footsteps of so many great men and women standing up for working people.

Books, Films and Football


The Surrey Advertiser recently asked all the candidates to be the next MP for Guildford a number of questions about sport and culture. Here are the questions and my answers…

What sports do you follow and what teams do you support? Would you support Guildford City FC’s bid to secure their own grounds?

What is your favourite book, album, film and play? What does the constituency need to do to improve the arts culture it offers?

What is your idea of the perfect night out? How does the constituency’s night life need to be improved?

I follow lots of sports but particularly football and cricket. I still support the football team from the town I grew up in, Hamilton Accies, but since I moved away 27 years ago I haven’t been to see them live for a long time. Being an airline pilot gives me the chance to go to matches abroad. I really like going to German Bundesliga matches on nightstops. It is cheap to get in, there is always a great atmosphere and the football is pretty good too. The clubs are owned by the fans, which makes a big difference.

Nowadays, I support Guildford City but the last time I had a chance to go to a match was last season. They were having a tough season on the pitch but it was great to be there to support our local team. I would like to see even more supporters in the stands and, preferably, the club owning their own ground.

I am looking forward to seeing Kevin Pietersen play cricket for Surrey this summer. I hope he comes to Guildford.

My favourite book of all time is probably Great Expectations. In recent fiction, I loved reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen because I lived in the mid-west of America at the time the novel is set. In non-fiction, I can recommend A View From The Foothills by Chris Mullin. It is a funny and irreverent diary of Mullin’s time as a Labour MP. I am currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir which is great fun. It is about a manned mission to Mars which doesn’t go to plan.

I used to work in a bookshop at weekends when I was at university and my mother was an English teacher so I still spend time with my nose in a good book when I can.

My musical tastes are half-6 Music and half-Radio 3. I have Dvorzak’s New World Symphonies on in my car and The Marmozets album The Weird and Wonderful on at home at the moment. I was very glad to speak in favour of The Boileroom music venue staying open at the council’s Licensing Committee last September. I think it is a cultural gem for Guildford.

My favourite film is Where Eagles Dare, the Second World War film starring Richard Burton. I have a sneaking suspicion that my parents named me after him. “Broadsword calling Danny Boy, over!”

If I had to choose a favourite play, it would probably be Macbeth, such a grotesque story due to the common human weakness of ambition.

A perfect night out for me is a good meal with fascinating company. After the election, I would like to dine with some of the most interesting politicians I have met during the campaign: Andy Burnham, Caroline Flint, Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna, Stella Creasy and Ed Miliband. I expect they will all be too busy for the next five years however!

Shaggy Dog Story


I was on a Glasgow nightstop with work on Wednesday night/Thursday morning so I visited my parents. I didn’t have to go back to the airport until after 4pm so my mum and I went out for lunch. As we were walking there we spotted a labrador type dog limping along on the other side of the road. As we approached, it walked out onto the road and cars had to stop. It seemed to have blood or something on its face too. Two women got out of their cars and we all tried to catch the dog to prevent it getting hit by a car.

There was a low hump-backed bridge just before the mini-roundabout where the dog was wandering aimlessly so drivers couldn’t see it until they were quite close. I stood in the road so they could see something, me, before they crossed the bridge. The dog was difficult to trap but eventually I got a grip on its collar. It immediately turned round and bit my hand! Which made me instinctively let go of the collar.

Soon after that, one of the women who stopped got a dog lead out of her car and we managed to get it round the dog’s neck and it behaved itself after that. My fellow dog-wranglers were ringing the RSPCA when another woman turned up and said it was the vet’s dog and she had phoned him to come and get it. We left the dog with her and went for lunch.

Where Mellie bit me!

Where Mellie bit me!

It occurred to me that I should make sure that my dog bite wasn’t going to give me some disease or something so I phoned the company which has the contract for looking after all of my employers’ flying crew when we are away from base. I spoke to a very helpful doctor in Phoenix, USA. She gave me a number of measures to carry out, one of which was phoning the vet to ask about the dog.

David, the vet, said, when we spoke on the phone, that Mellie the dog had become separated from him during a freak rain shower when they were walking on the beach. Mellie is nearly blind (which explains why her face looks like it has blood on it) and walks with a limp due to a previous spinal injury. He assured me that she does not have rabies (which the doctor in America was worried about) and the bite didn’t really break the skin anyway.

The upshot is that I survived and so did Mellie. If you were one of the many motorists in Doonfoot, Ayr on Thursday wondering what was causing the traffic jam, I hope this explains everything.

Act Now To Secure Britain’s Future Prosperity


Here is a link to the piece I wrote for the Campaign for Science and Engineering: http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/?p=16376

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