Monthly Archives: May 2013
Within the next few days you will be able to vote for the next MEP for the South East of England. Well, only if you are a fully paid up Labour Party member.
The next European Parliament elections will be next summer (the exact date hasn’t been set yet). All MEPs, all over Europe will be up for election for a fixed 5-year term. There are about 750 MEPs in total and, at the moment, there are 10 MEPs in the South East of England. I think the exact final numbers have yet to be decided.
MEPs are elected using proportional representation. Each party has a list of candidates and they are allocated a number of MEPs proportional to the percentage of votes they receive within the constituency. This is called the D’Hondt method.
This means that the first candidate on each list is extremely likely to be elected and the 10th one will not be, barring North Korea-like voting patterns. The order of candidates on the list is therefore crucial.
The last time these elections were contested was 2009, the nadir of Labour’s opinion polling. For this reason, we only have one MEP at the moment, Peter Skinner. Peter is standing down this time so, since he is a male MEP, we will be selecting a female candidate in top spot.
As an aside, I wholeheartedly agree with the party’s policy of trying to increase the number of women MEPs and MPs. Hopefully in years to come these measures, including all women shortlists, will not be necessary but for now they are essential.
Since the first candidate will be female, the second on the list will be male, the third female, etc. Labour members (who have been members since the start of the year) will soon receive two ballot papers to vote to decide the order of the 5 female and 5 male candidates. You can order the candidates 1,2,3, etc on each ballot paper. You don’t have to put a number beside all 5. For example if you just want to vote for one candidate, put a 1 beside their name and leave the rest blank. Voting will be online or by post.
Why is this important?
The turnout in Euro elections is very low and extremists try to take advantage of this. In 2009, Nigel Farage was elected as one of our MEPs. He hardly ever turns up but claims huge allowances and uses it as a platform for his xenophobic and homophobic views. Another of our MEPs is the Tory Daniel Hannan who wants to abolish the NHS. We need strong candidates to counter these characters.
Meet the candidates
There is a hustings event for Labour members in Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire this Sunday, 2 June, so we can meet all 10 candidates. It starts with an informal snack lunch at 12.30pm in Owen House, Heathside Crescent, Woking GU22 7AG. The candidates will each speak at 1.30pm then there will be a question and answer session.
There is a multi-storey car park across the road and it is very close to Woking railway station.
The candidates are (in alphabetical order):
They are all excellent candidates and I’m going to campaign enthusiastically for the Euro elections regardless of what order they appear on our list. It’s going to be a really tough decision to place them in order on my selection ballot paper.
Regular readers might remember I met Emily Westley while campaigning at the Eastleigh by-election. Emily also helped out in Surrey Heath during the county council elections so I know how committed to helping local Labour parties she is. I have endorsed Emily on her website and I will vote for her first on the female ballot. I’ve also been delivering her leaflets to local party members.
I haven’t decided who to endorse on the male list yet but I was very impressed by James Watkins when he phoned me to chat about our campaigns and priorities in Surrey. Also, Anneliese Dodds sent me a very persuasive letter through the post and I think I’ll vote for her second on the female list.
I’ve had emails from the other candidates and I’m keeping them to reread to prepare for the hustings. I like to receive these emails although I have heard other members complain about them. I enjoy being part of the electorate, especially when all the candidates say things I agree with. Like all voters, to a certain extent I favour candidates who promise to help me. It sounds selfish but small CLPs need help and support (and guidance) from experienced activists like all ten of these candidates.
I’m looking forward to the hustings in Woking and I’ll try to keep a reasonably open mind about who I’m going to vote for until then. See you all there!
It’s a tricky problem: everyone accepts we need more housing in this country, but nobody seems to want it built near them. Big builders are sitting on huge land banks but they won’t build the houses we all need there because they want to keep prices high. Government is now offering to back people’s mortgages so that demand is pumped up which might entice the developers to build more. What developers really want is to build on greenfield sites in the countryside rather than brownfield, previously developed sites.
Our borough council, Surrey Heath, is asking the public where new housing could be built. They have come up with some suggestions. Their website is here. They have also run some public exhibitions. I attended the Bagshot and Windlesham exhibitions and chatted to officers and councillors about their proposals, and members of the public about all sorts of issues.
SHBC leafleted houses in the borough asking people to come to the exhibitions and make their views known. Perhaps the council should consider more engagement exercises like this. They could consider combining it with other council functions and other layers of local government like the county council and police.
I was particularly interested in the sites planned for Windlesham:
I think some of the Heathpark Woods site is Green Belt and the planning officer told me that there are no plans to remove any land from Green Belt in Surrey Heath. Here is my submission to the consultation on this site:
I would not like to see site H/WIN/6, Land East of Heathpark Drive allocated for two main reasons.
Firstly, developing here would be harmful to the natural environment. This would be in conflict with the NPPF. The site contains flora and fauna which enhance the area and it provides vital green space for the settlement of Windlesham.
Secondly, and in common with H/WIN/9, there is a shortage of local amenities and infrastructure. The doctors’ surgery in Windlesham closed last year and residents struggle to access other surgeries. The public transport connections to Windlesham are the worst of any nearby settlement. I believe that before any significant new housing is built here the deficiency in local services and retail should be addressed. Provision for new retailers and community buildings should be included in any development. Also, the local bus service should be improved by increasing frequencies before new homes are built.
Another part of the consultation covers provision of travellers’ sites. SHBC should have provisioned 19 new pitches between 2006 and 2011. They didn’t allocate any. This means that new unauthorised travellers’ sites have a defence in court against being removed. They can now apply for planning permission on this basis. This is bad for both the traveller and non-traveller communities. I wrote the following submission to the consultation on this:
The council should choose option 2 and allocate small travellers’ sites across the borough. The current policy of doing nothing risks planning permission being granted for travellers’ sites in inappropriate, unplanned areas. The existing sites are all in the eastern part of the borough. Sites should be spread throughout the borough.
Under-provisioning of travellers’ sites is bad for the traveller and non-traveller communities and is a failure by the council in its duty. Travellers suffer unsuitable accommodation and face uncertainties about whether they will be allowed to stay. This has a negative effect on families and children. Non-travellers fear that unauthorised sites will become permanent due to the lack of provision. This could lead to loss of Green Belt land and pressure to approve other inappropriate uses of such land to prevent travellers’ sites from appearing. For example, Willow Farm in Chobham might become a highly unsuitable mansion because residents are worried about its potential to be used as a new unauthorised travellers’ site. This breeds resentment between the traveller and non-traveller communities and leads to prejudice and discrimination.
The consultation closes tomorrow at midnight, so if you want to have your say, you’ll have to be quick!
Update 4 June:
The Highways Agency has a plan to increase the capacity of the M3 on the section passing Windlesham. As I wrote before, I agree with the ‘Managed Motorway’ plan in principle but I have some reservations.
The consultation period ends on 24 May, so you only have a week left to make your views known. Here is the latest reply I have received from the Highways Agency. The webpage for the project is here.
They say that there will be ‘public exhibitions’ next month. I’ll look out for these and post details here when available.
If you live in Windlesham, you will probably have had the Windlesham Society leaflet through your letter box about the consultation. For anyone who has missed it, here it is:
Last night, at the Surrey Heath Borough Council Planning Committee, the Windlesham Village Vets practice gained planning permission to move from School Road to Anfield House on the corner of Broadley Green and Woodlands Lane.
Along with one of the two vets, I addressed the Committee to speak in favour of the application to change the use of the ground floor of Anfield House from residential to a vets’ practice. Two objectors and Cllr Liane Gibson spoke against it.
I’m very pleased to say that the Committee voted unanimously in favour. Cllrs Pedder and Paton made some succinct telling points in the debate and Cllr Moher proposed the motion to approve the application. The session was well chaired and both sides had a fair hearing.
The main issues raised by objectors were to do with traffic and parking. This happens with most contested applications and is difficult to make stick unless there really are genuine traffic problems, and there aren’t here. My initial concern was the possible noise of barking dogs but the vets showed me, by using evidence, that wasn’t a problem. After that, I couldn’t see any genuine reasons to oppose the application except NIMBY-ism.
On the other hand, I could see how the new vets’ location would be an asset to the village centre. If more people could walk there, the traffic would be reduced along with climate changing emissions, congestion, etc. A more vibrant village centre could become a virtuous circle, where businesses gain more custom and new businesses set up there, benefiting local people which is our ultimate goal after all.
After meeting with the two vets, Pete and Gill, I was very impressed by their dedication to their clients and their pets. A large number of people have spontaneously contacted me supporting them for this reason. They deserve to have a more spacious facility to work from but this will also be their home. As well as providing an improved service to local pets, they will be welcome friendly neighbours to everyone in the vicinity too. So this move will be good news for pets and humans alike.
They now have to purchase the property and make the approved alterations before moving in. I don’t know how long this will take but as I find out more I’ll post updates on here.
UKIP have been causing a stir electorally for a while now but last week’s local elections saw them take so many votes, with so few relevant policies, such poor candidates, and so little campaign work, that they cannot be ignored any longer.
They are clearly a threat to the Conservative Party. Ken Clarke went on Sky News to slag them off, calling them “clowns” just before polling day. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t enough to persuade voters not to vote for them. David Cameron had previously called UKIP “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. In the run up to polling day, bizarrely, he wouldn’t even utter the word “UKIP” in interviews.
UKIP were fielding a huge number of candidates and another pointless Tory strategy was to find the craziest ones and expose them. “So what?” the British electorate replied.
UKIP are a dangerous right-wing force but the Tories’ masterplan for dealing with them was counter-productive. These jokers are no laughing matter.
Regression to the Mean
David Cameron and his strategist, Gideon “George” Osborne, only have themselves to blame for providing UKIP with fertile territory. They have legitimised being mean. It is now perfectly acceptable in polite company to complain about single mothers again (remember Peter Lilley’s little list?). Their lexicon of “scroungers” and “strivers” has become adopted first in the tabloid press, then the broadcast media, and now in workplaces across the country.
It was the Tories who used vilification of benefit claimants as a political weapon. They can’t complain that UKIP picked it up and showed how experts can appeal to the worst in human nature. Their offer to voters is “Feel free to hate”. The Tories may have hoped to direct their poison at certain groups. UKIP have no such restraint. They have free rein to be anti-benefit claimant, anti-disabled, anti-single mother, homophobic, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant and (from the communications I receive from UKIP stalkers I’m entitled to say this) racist.
The electoral arithmetic for David Cameron looks daunting. UKIP takes 6 votes from the Conservative Party for every 1 it takes from Labour. UKIP gained no seats from Labour last week.
The Tory Party is deeply divided on Europe, as always, and Nigel Farage will not consider any pact with them while Cameron is leader. The Party hated Cameron’s modernisation exercise before the 2010 election but put up with it in order to win the election, which it didn’t. The backwoodsmen won’t get fooled again. The overwhelming pressure on Cameron is to chase UKIP to the right. He won’t catch them, of course.
If the Tories stay where they are, more and more voters, members, activists, councillors and eventually MPs will defect to UKIP. If they move right, Labour will hold the centre ground almost unopposed. The centre ground is where elections are decided.
Cameron’s position is impossible. Luckily for him, he’s got arch-strategist Osborne to help him.
Labour cannot ignore UKIP and just wait for the 2015 election to drop into our laps either. I’ve heard a few strategies for countering UKIP on the doorstep and I think it’s important we use the right one. People feel fed up with politicians generally, UKIP voters are not all (or even mostly) incorrigible bigots. They voted UKIP for many different reasons.
One strategy, used by the Tories so unsuccessfully, is to ridicule and abuse them. Of course many of their candidates and supporters deserve to be shown up as the racist thugs that they are but the more ‘politicians’ slag them off, the more the public like them.
Another strategy is to pick holes in the UKIP manifesto. This is easy to do. Anyone who reads political manifestos would be appalled by it. So, what percentage of UKIP voters, or any voters, have read the UKIP manifesto, or any manifesto? It really doesn’t matter what they write in it, people will vote UKIP for their own reasons and we have to understand that. One voter told our canvasser that he would be voting UKIP because of “cookies on computers”. This was not because he was worried about being spied on by having cookies placed on his system, it was the annoying warnings and disclaimers that pop up informing you about it. He thought that was political correctness gone mad and UKIP would put a stop to it.
Politics is out of touch with many ordinary people. This is a dangerous time and an extreme right-wing movement could take hold unless we act. I believe we need to ask people why they think UKIP want their vote. What will they use it for? What sort of country would they create? Would there be an NHS? Jobs? Foreign holidays? Retiring abroad? Would people you know be persecuted for being gay, an ethnic minority, disabled, poor?
Most of all, we need to hold our ground politically and not chase UKIP to the right. We need to give our vision of a Britain we are proud of, tolerant, fair and outward-looking, where people have rights and also responsibilities. Tempting though it is to let Nigel and Dave slug it out, we need to get involved too. Our country needs us.
Voters in Surrey Heath rewarded Labour candidates in the six divisions contested here for Surrey County Council with a huge increase in our vote. I want to thank the voters of Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham for voting for me, in particular. I received 426 votes, the highest number I have ever received. This was 13.7% of the total. In the equivalent division last time we gained 5.7%. An 8 percentage point increase is more than I expected and I never dreamed I would finish ahead of the LibDems too. I’m humbled by the trust that people have shown in me and I promise to use this mandate for progressive change here.
As the Tories are dragged to the right by UKIP, we will stay where we are and where people need us to be. We will be here to stand against the vilification of those on benefits, ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups.
We didn’t win any of the six divisions this time. To win here we need to take one step at a time and build our support. This election was a huge step. Before we can win elections we need to contest fair elections. In this election we fielded 6 courageous candidates and faced down the abuse and threats from the, currently dominant, Tory Party.
Businesses in Surrey Heath are unfairly pressured to donate to, or associate themselves with, the Conservatives. Tory councillors’ business interests need more thorough scrutiny. In the next few years I will target this anti-democratic symbiotic relationship.
I congratulate my Conservative opponent, Mike Goodman, on being elected. My compliments go to Ruth Hutchinson and Robert Shatwell too. I would like to thank the Returning Officer and their staff for conducting the election efficiently, as usual.
Personally, I look forward to working with Ruth again, as we have done before, in efforts to improve our community.
My next challenge is to throw myself into the community activism work that was rewarded by voters. I will fight to enhance our villages and environment and always remember the faith that the voters of Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham have placed in me, in the election of 2 May 2013.
I’m truly grateful. Thank you.