Wednesday 22 May 2013

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council

As some of you may have read or seen, I was elected as Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday.  For anyone interested in how politics works I suspect yesterday was a fascinating meeting with a huge amount of debate about changes to the constitution.  In particular motions were passed which increase numbers on many of our committees to an odd number and to stop the ruling group from chairing them.  That same amendment chose to increase the size of our Health and Wellbeing Board so that it includes 10 councillors rather than 2.   Personally, I think that last amendment is a huge mistake and I made that point yesterday - the message it sends to the other bodies that sit on the board is not a good one, especially as those board members were heavily involved in discussions about the structure and had deliberately kept it small in recognition that large committees can become unwieldy - something that is being recognised as a problem in other parts of the Country.

The other amendment was one that committed us to a review of our political structures so that we move towards a committee system instead of the Cabinet system we currently have.  Our group argued that the review should not just be focussed on the committee structure, but should have a wider remit to look at what political structure is the right one for delivering for the people of Cambridgeshire. We also wanted an expectation that whatever structure is recommended should be cost neutral; at a time when we are having to take significant sums out of our budgets I do not think it would be acceptable to spend more on the political functions of the Council. Some did argue that it should not cost more, but the Centre for Public Scrutiny seem to suggest otherwise, their report on committees said:

"It appears that the transparency and effectiveness of the system is reduced by cutting it back by making it cost neutral"

So we either have to spend more at a time when there is less money, or we have less transparency and a less effective process? Only time will tell.

The vote for leader was interesting.  We had heard that one of the reasons the Lib Dems had replaced their leader was that they were unhappy with the closeness to UKIP that had developed over the last few weeks.  Seeing them support their new Leader as Leader of the Council and then abstain when he was voted out of the process rather than support UKIP's preferred candidate from the Independent Group made that point perfectly.

As for UKIP.  Well people's early views of what UKIP in Cambridgeshire are about should be guided by the fact that over the last few weeks they have been all over the press claiming that deals have been done in one way or another, speculation that I thought was really unhelpful, proved to be entirely without foundation.

Although this was fascinating for us politicians, I suspect it is of little concern to the people of our County, and I made the point yesterday that now is the time to move on from the political shenanigans and start focussing on doing things for the people of Cambridgeshire, that is what we are here for.

My pledge as leader is to do everything I can to be inclusive, but also to ensure the focus stays on the priorities of our Council.

Monday 6 May 2013

Local Elections - The UKIP Factor

Towards the end of the count for Fenland's part of the County Council elections, I watched a group of UKIP candidates and supporters celebrating in the corner, on a day when I had seen good colleagues who have been outstanding Conservative Councillors lose their seats, I have to say it hurt.  But I chose to go across, shake their hands, and offer my congratulations.

I did that for a number of reasons, but firstly because success needs to be  congratulated, but also because they are people I am going to be working with. The truth is that the broad thrust of  UKIP's mainstream policies are Conservative policies. We are a party that is largely Euro-sceptic and want to sort the immigration situation out - so there can be no doubt that however the future of the County Council pans out, that close political thinking is sometimes going to be a factor.

The success of UKIP has surprised everyone. I was expecting a UKIP swing, but I was not expecting anything close to what happened, in fact neither were UKIP - which is why a few of what they themselves admitted were just paper candidates were not at the count and were surprised to win.

It is quite clear that UKIP are the only party who have reason to celebrate last week's vote.  The rest of us have to lick our wounds and listen and learn.  Many are painting this as a protest vote about immigration; We need to think deeper than that, it is not just about immigration (although that is the particular issue at this time) The level of the protest vote and the swing away from mainstream politics was at an unprecedented level - and I believe this is because of factors that go beyond the particular issues that UKIP stand for.

Politics is about people, not politicians. Too many senior politicians surround themselves with people that are inexperienced about life, don't understand the world many people live in and are choosing to put the voice of an inexperienced professional political  elite over the wisdom of others who have a better understanding about the way the world works, including ignoring a real voice of wisdom from some very experienced Members of Parliament.  It is that which needs to change. if it doesn't once the immigration and Europe issues are sorted, another major issue will arise where politicians will prove themselves distant from reality, will ignore the voice of the public and the voice of wisdom surrounding them and yet another pressure group will rise.

The reason I come to this conclusion is partly a reflection of my own result, where I achieved a higher turnout than the rest of Fenland and where my own personal vote pretty much held up.  There can be little doubt that a major factor in that was the supermarkets issue locally, where I have visibly  stood up for the interests of Whittlesey and the voters have recognised that I have listened and learned.  Compare that to the National situation, how many people can say that the Government (or the opposition) have genuinely delivered or represented them on the issues that matter to them, and if they have, has their message got across?

This issue about how mainstream politics and leaders operate is a problem for every mainstream party, it is not just a Conservative issue and they all need to learn from last Thursday.

Friday 3 May 2013

A Word of Thanks

This is the first of a series of blog posts I will write about the electon results, this first one is largely about what it should be about: the fabulous people of Whittlesey who I represent.

My result today was:

Curtis (Conservative):                     1151 (55%)
Gale (Labour):                                 260   (12.5%)
Goldspink (English Democrats):     48.    (2.3%)
Redding (UKIP):                             611   (29.3%)

This was on a 33.7% turnout, the highest in the Fenland area.

Firstly, I want to say congratulations to everyone who stood.  Whether a paper candidate or not, putting your name on a ballot paper is never easy and I admire anyone that does so.

I have very mixed feelings about today, but in terms of my own situation I am very humbled by the result. There have been huge swings to UKIP elsewhere, so to maintain 55% of the vote is a great achievement.  That the voters of Whittlesey North have maintained their support in me is something that means a huge amount.

A factor in my result (especially when considered alongside Ralph Butcher's success in Whittlesey South) is that Whittlesey is lucky to have a great bunch of Conservative Councillors and I thank them for their support, as I do the volunteers who helped me deliver leaflets and who helped on Election Day yesterday.

The biggest thanks go to my good lady who reinforced her reputation as both a fabulous wife and a leaflet delivering machine.

The second comment is that one of the reasons I have won is because I have listened to residents and stood up for them. Those that fought against that, punished me for it, or challenged me for doing so need to sit up and take notice about what engaging, communicating politics means to the people that politicians serve.  My aim is to learn lessons from my result and find new and even better ways of doing what I am already trying to do.

My final comment is to repeat the thanks to everyone who supported me and to remind you That I am here to serve the whole of Whittlesey North, irrespective of whether you voted or who you voted for. Please do not be afraid to contact me if I can help.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Failing to disprove my obsession with UKIP

A number of people have suggested that I have an obsession with UKIP this election, they are people that have only focused on a part of my on-line comments during the campaign, nevertheless  I thought I would totally prove them right by making them the topic of my final pre-election day blog.

The truth is, the only thing I have been obsessed with during this campaign is working damned hard, that is why I have outworked every other candidate standing against me  Whilst I have had support from some volunteers and from fellow Councillors, I can offer a guarantee that I have put in more personal effort than any other candidate in Whittlesey North, by some considerable margin - and the message I have been getting out has almost entirely been about my record and my vision for the future. It has been reassuring to drive past the Labour Candidate's house every night and see his car still parked outside his house, while I have been out working and earning people's votes.

But, online, busting the UKIP myth has been important.  I want to address that issue from both a  local and National perspective.  Locally, I am sure the UKIP candidate is a nice bloke, however, it is pretty clear he is a paper candidate.  He is standing just so UKIP have their name on the ballot paper, but he has done no work that I have seen during the campaign (and I have eyes and ears everywhere) has delivered no leaflets (most people have had 3 from me) and, like most paper candidates, has no expectation or desire to win.  If that is the sort of candidate that floats your boat, fine - but I suspect most people prefer someone that is willing to work to gain your support.

It is true that Nationally many people are predicting something of a UKIP bounce this year, and any candidate worth his salt will always try and deal with the impact of something like that in his own personal election, but with UKIP it goes deeper than that.  UKIP have built their reputation on two issues, an anti-Europe message and an aggressive anti-immigration one. I am going to say something tough here that many UKIPpers won't like, but given the history of the National Front and the BNP in Britain, it is obvious that a party that sells itself almost entirely on those policies is going to attract more than its fair share of extremists.  Does that mean that every UKIP candidate or member is a racist?  No, of course it doesn't. But given the poor job that UKIP have done in vetting their candidates (surely knowing they would attract these people?) how confident can anyone be about the credentials of the candidate you have drawn in the UKIP electoral raffle?

I am quite clear in Whittlesey North that our candidate is a decent bloke and I know his background is as an ex-Labour activist, but it bothers me that elsewhere some closet racists might stop perfectly good candidates of any political colour being elected and, indeed, may actually get elected themselves. THAT is what bothers me about UKIP.

So, my message is, don't vote UKIP in Whittlesey North because the candidate has shown he doesn't want the job and don't vote UKIP elsewhere because you are encouraging a party that should know better, to continue with a naive, head in the sand candidate selection policy.

In fact, in Whittlesey North, I would go further and urge you to vote for me, a candidate with a combination of both a positive record and a vision for the future.

My Pledges for Whittlesey And Whittlesey North

These pledges are on my final leaflet going out at the moment, but the leaflet will probably not get everywhere, so I thought it made sense to publish it here too:

  • Even though there is a commitment to building a bridge over Kings Dyke, I will continue to focus on this as a priority for Whittlesey; I will not give up until someone cuts a ribbon to open the bridge.
  • I will never stop campaigning for a Whittlesey bypass.
  • I will continue to work to protect our Town Centre; in particular I promise that I will never support any flat, paid parking regime for the Town (I should stress that there are no current plans for this).
  • I will continue to seek innovative ways of communicating with residents. In particular I want to explore a few new ways of listening to your views and ideas, for example, on how we deal with some longstanding parking and speeding issues.
  • I will continue to make sure the views of Whittlesey residents on national issues are heard through the communication I have with our local MP and through lobbying Ministers and any other relevant bodies. The three biggest national issues raised with me last year were: benefit dependency, Europe and immigration.
  • I will always strive for Cambridgeshire County Council to deliver excellent services and have ambition for Whittlesey.
Have any other candidates for Whittlesey North published anything that comes close to this? You know what to do tomorrow.