Category Archives: Democracy

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

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

#Lab14: The Leader’s Speech


This is the fifth in a series of posts about the 2014 Labour Party Conference in Manchester.

The Choice

I am writing this a week after getting home from Manchester and a few hours after watching David Cameron give his speech to the Conservative Party Conference. In Manchester last week, there was great excitement for Ed Miliband’s speech and I made new friends in the queue to get in and in the conference centre and the bars afterwards. We all could see that this was one half of showing the British people what the choice is next May. The other half was today.

Telling Ed directly about the aspirations of people in Surrey

Telling Ed directly about the aspirations of people in Surrey

I have met Ed a few times now. As a PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) I have an equal chance to speak to Ed and the Shadow Cabinet as other candidates throughout the country. My honest opinion is that Ed is a good man. He is not cynical or driven by calculations of popularity like in The Thick of It. On the contrary, my experience is that he thinks deeply about the real issues affecting people in the UK, and the world. He can see what the moral, ethical and decent solution is to these problems and he pursues it. He took on Murdoch because it was the right thing to do. No other party leader has had that moral bravery in my lifetime. He is a threat to the right-wing establishment so they smear him continuously. Is anyone surprised by that?

Cost of Living

Only Ed talked about the failure of the economy to provide for ordinary people. Cameron cannot touch this subject. This is what I hear on the doorstep and in the street when I speak to voters. 9 million people, including 2 million children, live in private rented housing. The numbers doing so in Guildford have rocketed since 2010. Only Ed is on their side.

Only Ed and Labour can intervene in the energy market to freeze utility bills. Cameron can’t touch this, his donors would blow a fuse.

Wages are stagnating and more and more people find themselves on zero-hour contracts or earning below the living wage. Only Ed Miliband and Labour will stand up for those people. Disabled people have been targeted by the cruel Tory-LibDem Bedroom Tax. Only Labour will scrap it.

A fair society is a strong society. People should be fairly rewarded for work and protected from predatory corporations. Ed can do this, Cameron cannot.

The Next Generation

In Ed’s speech there was a vision for how the country could be. If the economy worked for working people and we did more for each other, together, then the next generation need not be worse off than their parents.

Ed spoke about climate change and its threat to our world. Cameron forgot that section of his speech, if it ever existed. Rampant climate change will wreck large parts of the globe. It will bring poverty, famine and mass displacement. We have an obligation to our fellow world citizens to play our part in combatting it. Ed will, Cameron won’t.

Ed’s vision is one of hope. Hope, that our country can change to share the proceeds of globalisation with everyone, that we can keep our planet liveable for all peoples, and hope that the next generation can have the opportunities that their parents did.

Cameron’s vision is one of fear. Fear, that other countries will betray us, that entrenched privilege will be threatened, and fear that new ideas and culture will reach us and challenge us.

Does fear trump hope? If it does then the next generations will live a less fulfilled existence than their ancestors. This is The Choice.

The NHS

The National Health Service typifies how British people want to care for each other. I am old enough to remember how Thatcher ran it down so that patients were waiting for hours on trolleys in corridors. Labour rescued the NHS then and will need to rescue it again. Cameron and Clegg are selling off our NHS. Everything is up for grabs.

In Ed’s speech he set out how we will combine health and social care and provide the funding required to secure the future of Britain’s most loved institution. Cameron didn’t.

I told BBC Surrey about Ed’s speech here:

Choose

Ed offered carefully costed plans to save the NHS and clear direction on the environment. He offered hope to the next generation and a way to make the country and the economy work for everyone, not just a small elite.

Cameron offered an excuse to bash the most vulnerable, austerity without end and a massive pile of cash to the richest in society.

The choice is clear. The election is on 7 May 2015. Which will you choose?

 

#Lab14: Standing up for Surrey


This is the second in a series of posts about my experience of the 2014 Labour Party Conference.

One Nation, My Nation

2014-09-20 13.12.14I have lived in Surrey for many years, since about the year 2000, but I have travelled, spent time and made friends all over the United Kingdom. I grew up just outside Glasgow, I have lived in Liverpool and I go to work in London. Arriving in Manchester for the Labour conference last Saturday I felt very much at home. Everyone was friendly: at the airport, at the hotel, on the streets and at the conference itself.

2014-09-25 09.12.52The great thing about being a PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) in the Labour Party is that I can press the case for my constituents on an equal footing with all the other PPCs. I can tell Ed Miliband about the aspirations of people in Guildford. I can discuss domestic violence and policing in Surrey with Yvette Cooper. I can put the case for preserving the Green Belt directly to Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, the Shadow Minister for Planning. Labour is the One Nation party and will govern for all constituencies. I wonder if Tory Party PPCs for Sunderland, Manchester or Glasgow get access to David Cameron, I doubt it.

2014-09-22 18.08.16

From the BBC website’s live blog of the conference

What about Surrey?

People in Surrey are the same as people in the rest of the UK. They have the same fears and aspirations. They care about their neighbours, families and their future in the same way. Electorally, however, Surrey is the height of Tory-dom on Earth. The reason for this is that people have got used to voting Tory, but this can change. It is already changing.

Telling Ed directly about the aspirations of people in Surrey

Telling Ed directly about the aspirations of people in Surrey

I speak to voters on the doorstep regularly and hear about their struggle. It is the same struggle that people across the country face: insecurity, living standards squeezed, fear for the future. They don’t believe anyone is on their side. Labour under Ed Miliband understands this and only Labour can have the answers. Only Labour will intervene in energy, housing, transport markets to make them work for people instead of corporations. Only Labour will rescue the NHS. Only Labour can turn despair into hope for the next generation in Surrey.

Thank you, Conference

Looking back at the last few days, there were many high points, which I will write about over the next few days. However, the pinnacle for me was addressing the entire conference of thousands of people to stand up for Surrey’s working people, its families, its children and its pensioners. Labour is truly a party which listens to all the people of the United Kingdom and I am greatly privileged to be speaking for Guildford and the whole of Surrey at such an important forum.

Here is a clip of my speech to Conference, one of the proudest moments of my life:

 

 

 

#Lab14: Real recall with 38 Degrees


I have just returned from the 2014 Labour Party Conference in Manchester. It was stimulating, inspiring, energising and sometimes mind-blowing. This is the first in a series of posts about what I did, what I saw and what I felt when I was there. I haven’t got any particular order in mind for these posts but since the largest number of constituents contacted me about this event I thought I’d start with this…

Keeping it real

Real Recall event

This event was organised by 38 Degrees. Regular readers of this blog will know I have been involved with many 38 Degrees campaigns before, including being bundled out of a door on film by Michael Gove’s bouncer. But I digress. This event was about how the public can hold MPs to account between elections. I spend much of my life doing this so it matters greatly to me. Recall means forcing a by-election in a constituency before the normal end of a Parliament (every five years).

All three parties committed to this in their 2010 manifestos and it was in the Tory-LibDem Coalition Agreement. So why haven’t we got a right of recall yet? Well, it’s the same reason why MPs are getting a big pay rise and why chairs of council committees in Guildford interupt me when I’m trying to speak up for public opinion. MPs have the power and they don’t want to share it. David Cameron is proposing a system of recall where MPs would sit in judgement of other MPs and decide if they should be recalled. This is a predictable response from the Conservative Party, of course. They don’t want ordinary people to have any say at all. This is why this event was called, we demand a real system of recall where MPs who have betrayed their constituents can be forced, by their constituents, to stand before them again and explain themselves.

Summoned

38 Degrees don’t just put on events and expect the right people to turn up. Some of my constituents in Guildford sent me emails asking me attend. This was organised through 38 Degrees but their words and feelings were genuine. Helping people contact and lobby MPs and prospective MPs is an invaluable service. This is why I personally donate a small amount to 38 Degrees every month.

The room was packed, at 8.30am, and it was a fantastic opportunity to press the speakers on all aspects of recall.

Lisa Nandy MP

Lisa Nandy is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Civil Society. She told us that Cameron’s proposals for recall were worthless and even his own MPs, like Zac Goldsmith and David Davies, will not stand for it. Labour’s priority is to “push power outwards from Westminster”, she said, not have MPs stitching it up again in cosy committee rooms at the House of Commons.

Lisa described the potential dangers of recall if it is not legislated for carefully. She told us about a recent debate in the House of Commons about international aid. Just about the only MP in the House opposing international aid was the Conservative Philip Davies. His arguments were abhorent, about leaving the world’s poorest and most down-trodden to suffer, about refusing any human feelings of fellowship, about fear, greed and isolationism. Lisa said she felt like throwing things at his head while he was speaking. However, she said he must have the right to stand up in Parliament and say these things because some people, a small number, in this country feel that way. Recall must not hound out MPs for representing minority views.

Me asking the panel about recalling MPs who have betrayed their constituents

Me asking the panel about recalling MPs who have betrayed their constituents

Owen Jones

I’m a big fan of Owen’s and it was great to hear him speak. He answered my question about MPs who are found to have committed awful misconduct, to have betrayed the trust of the electorate, and find reasons not to do the decent thing and resign. He agreed that some do but many don’t. He said that there is a real problem with the representation for ordinary people in Parliament, working class MPs are scarce now. The Tory-LibDem Lobbying Act is designed to make political campaigning and organising more difficult. Lisa Nandy was applauded for confirming that Labour will repeal this law.

I really enjoyed chatting to Owen afterwards and telling him about our campaign in Guildford. It is great to meet famous people who turn out to be really nice people in real life. He was very encouraging about how important it is to take the fight to the Tories in Surrey. Owen described the LibDems’ betrayal of voters here and across the country as “doing a Clegg”. The Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s seat was there to. Oliver Coppard stands a great chance of beating Clegg and delivering the LibDem leader’s punishment he deserves for breaking his pledges on tuition fees, the NHS and many others. I have met Oliver a few times and I know he will be the great MP that the people of Sheffield Hallam deserve after being failed so badly by Clegg.

Owen Jones and me chatting after the Real Recall event

Owen Jones and me chatting after the Real Recall event

Recall that works but doesn’t oppress

There were other interesting speakers, Joe Cox from Compass and Jonathan Isaby from the Taxpayers’ Alliance. The event was expertly chaired by Blanche Jones from 38 Degrees. The Taxpayers’ Alliance is a right wing pressure group whose message is “you’re on your own”, so I don’t warm to them, to put it mindly. However, they are in favour of recall which is good, although I have my suspicions about the kind of recall they would prefer. Lisa Nandy put her finger on it when she talked about the danger of big corporations funding campaigns against MPs in marginal constituencies to have them recalled for opposing their interests. I fear the Taxpayers’ Alliance may have that future in mind.

A revealing comment from Isaby: “Police and Crime Commissioner elections increased democracy”. PCCs have been a failure of democracy and need to be abolished, in my opinion. On the other hand, what 38 Degrees does is real democracy.

I’m in favour of recall for MPs who have lied, stolen and grossly abused the trust of their constituents. I believe this should be driven by voters, not MPs and not big corporations. The Scottish referendum campaign told us what we already know – people are disengaged and disillusioned with Westminster. A real recall system can be part of forcing Westminster to start listening and finding answers to the questions people are asking.

If I should become a stranger…


As a Scotsman who has lived in Surrey for many years, I find myself torn about the independence referendum. My Scottish friends and family are evenly split between Noes and Yeses. We all share the same objectives but some people see voting No as the means to that end and some will vote Yes as a way of reaching the same goals.

I grew up in a town outside Glasgow near the birthplace of Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party. Like nearly all Scots, I was state educated. Politically, I have always believed everyone has a responsibility for each other and this leads to a better society than individuals trying to grab as much as possible for themselves. Personally, I feel a strong Scottish national identity, like all Scots, especially those who have left Scotland to live and travel all over the world.

So, I would vote Yes, right? Well, No, actually.

If I had a vote, I would cast it for the outcome which would most benefit the ordinary people of Scotland, especially the worse off. National identity is important but Scotland already is a nation with an identity to be proud of. We should be confident enough that we don’t have to define ourselves by separation from our neighbours. Every election should be used to “kick the Tories” as David Cameron put it last week but this is a referendum on breaking solidarity with all working people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland too, not just the despised, grasping, rich Tories.

I believe staying part of the UK would provide the strength, stability and solidarity that would lead to a fairer, more socially just Scotland. The world is becoming more interdependent. Scottish workers should make common cause with English workers and workers everywhere or we risk running a race to the bottom in corporate taxes and pay and conditions. People cannot be governed without their consent and if there is a No vote, the Scottish government must be given powers such as to abolish the Bedroom Tax and to renationalise its railways.

Whichever way the vote goes this week, the United Kingdom will be changed by it. The vast majority of people in Scotland will show they believe voting matters. They will be voting for the right reasons whether they choose Yes or No.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, wrote about solidarity across nations and this is my personal hope for the referendum:

Then let us pray that come it may

As come it will for a’ that,

That Sense and Worth o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree an a’ that.

For a’ that, an a’ that,

It’s comin yet for a’ that,

That man to man, the world, o’er

Shall brithers be for a’ that.

[This piece was requested by a local newspaper for publication on 18 September.

Richard Wilson, airline pilot from Windlesham, Surrey and Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Guildford in 2015]

Say Yes 2 Europe

Grassroots campaign for a decisively pro-EU result in the UK referendum

CllrEmmaBlogs

A topnotch WordPress.com site

A Mad Man With A Blog

Look upwards, and share the wonders I've seen...

Sophia James

Labour Councillor for Katesgrove Ward

Cranleigh Labour Party

A voice for Cranleigh in tough times

Stanwell Voice

News and views from Robert Evans - Labour County Councillor for Stanwell Moor, Stanwell and part of North Ashford

The Camberley Eye

Community news and views about Camberley

huxley06

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Red Reflections

Tracey Hill's blog: Labour Councillor for the Hollingdean and Stanmer ward on Brighton and Hove City Council, elected 7th May 2015. All views her own. Tweets more often than blogs.

No More Page 3

Because Boobs Aren't News

What's happening to your library?

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers

%d bloggers like this: