The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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On Norman Baker and a sensible discussion on drugs

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I suppose I should open this blog post with posting my personal knowledge on drugs. I have never taken them, no politicians answer of ‘I had a toke once but I never inhaled’ – I have just never done drugs. It has never interested me. So take my views with that knowledge out there.

Sensible debate is something that isn’t conducive to politics in democracies. It is often about who can shout the loudest and who are are voting against and not for. It is one of the large drawbacks of politics and it saddens me deeply. Listening to opposing viewpoints and evidence and coming to your own conclusion is one of the best things about being human. I don’t surround myself with people who agree with me as that would be boring. I enjoy actually talking with people who have differing points of view.

One of the big discussions that is starting to once more makes waves is how to deal with drugs. Following a fierce internal battle, Norman Baker the report Drugs: International Comparators published and if you don’t have the time to read the whole thing, here is a snapshot of the conclusion – our drug policy doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for decades. This is not the biggest surprise in the world but it is good to see a study actually state this.

The man who fought to get this published was Norman Baker, who resigned yesterday in essence because his boss Teresa May wanted a Conservative Home Office and not a coalition one. He said this last week:

The Liberal Democrats believe drugs policy should be based on evidence, not dogma or the desire to sound tough. If you are anti-drugs you should be pro-reform.

For too long successive governments have been unwilling to look at the evidence. This comprehensive report shows that other ways of tackling drug addiction and supply can save lives and cut crime.

It’s time for a radical change in British drugs policy. The fact is we should spend more time and effort cracking down on the Mr Bigs’ and criminal gangs who traffic drugs than users and addicts who should be helped to recover, not put behind bars.

It is immensely hard to read the report and Baker’s words and with an open mind actually disagree with him. Polls on the subject are relatively mixed but whilst the overall numbers are split down the middle on how to deal with the drug issues, the problem is the majority of those who vote are still in favour of a hard line on drugs. As long as this is the case then politicians whose primary objective is power will pander to these people.

Political parties in general want to get into power to carry out their agenda, however it is hard to get into power and to do so you have to not appeal to the widest possible electorate but the widest possible electorate…who vote and therein lies the biggest problem. Not everyone votes. In fact those who are least likely to vote are often the most disenfranchised and the unhappiest believing that their views aren’t taken aboard by politicians and they are right – because they don’t vote and the circle is complete.

To have a sensible discussion on real subjects in this day and age is always going to hard. We live in a 24/7 rolling news cycle world and the broadcasters and other media outlets want to attract viewers and readers and you don’t do that by opening up to actual discussion. You do that by shouting the loudest or sounding the toughest. Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime goes down well with those who don’t actually want to see the real world for what it is. This is why I admire Norman Baker so much for trying to get this discussion out there and trying to engage with people on this important topic.

I want to live in a country where politicians make decisions based on evidence and not rhetoric. This is the dream. I won’t sit here and say I know exactly what we should do on drugs but I do know that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. I also firmly believe that adults should be free to make their own decisions on how they live their lives as long as it isn’t at the direct detriment of others. I would maybe hark back to education and educating people on drugs and if they still use to use then that is their decision.

One thing though is very clear to me. Those who are addicted and want to get off should be helped and not treated as criminals. We all make mistakes in life, some more serious than others I grant you, but everyone deserves help if they reach out for it. We shouldn’t give up on members of society just for making mistakes. Rehabilitation is by far the best way to fight addiction and until the moment a government sees this then I doubt we’ll see any significant progress.

The Lib Dems have made a step on this and are talking very loudly and proudly on this matter and I praise them for that. It is just a shame that many won’t listen because they’ve already made their minds up about the party because of past issues and that shows that many vote because of emotions and not because of policy but that is a story for another day. For now the Lib Dems are trying to bring real topics to the forefront of the discussion and for that we should all be grateful. I just hope people actually engage and not just dismiss because of emotions.

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Written by neilmonnery

November 4th, 2014 at 1:23 pm

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It is time for the Lib Dems to be truly radical on education

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Nick Clegg has spoken today about how too much teacher time is taken up with box ticking and paperwork, which is pretty fair but he doesn’t speak about just what is wrong with our education system but also about the mindset of far too many people.

This is something that has been building inside of me for a long time and I have written about it several times in recent weeks and months. The crux of the issue is I disagree with what the primary function of schooling seems to be – exams. I would love to know a breakdown of parents thoughts as to whether they would prefer their child to be as best prepared academically for the world to give them the best career options or whether they would prefer their children to be as best prepared to make their own decisions and be the person they want to be.

This falls under the whole envelope I think about regarding the future of society and I could draw inspiration from many places. Last night I flicked over and saw a bit of a TV show called, ‘Secret Life of Living Dolls’ and it was about guys that like to dressing up as latex dolls. Not a fetish I’ve ever dabbled in I must admit but I can see the appeal. A group of them went out in public and got a pretty positive response until some douche started hassling them and screaming at them for doing it. Were they harming him? No. He just didn’t think that people should be allowed to express themselves in a way that he wasn’t comfortable with.

It didn’t shock me but that one person will have undoubtedly caused them more distress than all the positive the other people did. As a race we are generally accepting of those who are different and we are making strides towards making it even better. Homosexuality is now much more, I want to say mainstream but that isn’t the word, it is generally more accepted although some people still can’t do so, many of these people look at religion for a reason to treat these people differently. Religion is the biggest problem that the human race faces but that is a story for another day.

Going back to the education point. A few weeks ago I saw a piece on the BBC News where a failing school had been ‘turned around’ and the headmaster was telling the reporter how he’d done it. The kids are literally not allowed to talk at any time except in break and lunch times unless told it was acceptable by a teacher. Walking between classes had to be done in silence. He had the children line up in register order on three separate occasions during the school day in the main hall to take a register to ensure no-one was truanting. Of course this was in silence. Add to that incredibly strict uniform rules and people wonder why children do not feel free to express themselves.

I am sure Middle England loved it but I wanted to throttle the guy. He is doing so much damage to these young minds yet he is there patting himself on the back because exam results are up. The fact he has robotic children who I suspect are scared to find out who they are seemingly means very little to him.

The young mind is one of the greatest things about our formative years. We all have dreams and aspirations and good schooling can help that. I know what I wanted to be all the way through my younger years and I dabbled in it but here we are at 31 and that part of my life is seemingly in my rear view mirror. You grow up and you have other priorities. Yet I think every adult at some point comes to the realisation that all they truly want is to be happy. Oh happiness. There is a blog post all in itself. Money is great and having a good career is great but that alone won’t make most of us happy.

We all find happiness in different ways and what makes us happy as a teenager may well not make us happy in our 20s, 30s, 40s etc. We continue to grow and evolve as adults but for many of us that involves going back to our teenage years and remembering what our dreams were then and trying again as adults to achieve them. Last week Byron, a 27 year-old contestant in Masterchef Australia was eliminated but said that he now knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he wanted a career in food because it made him happy. He hadn’t got involved in food after school for a variety of reasons but many of the contestants are like that. They chose a career path that they were expected to do or just fell into instead of going for what they truly wanted. This is a flaw in education and in society. We do what is expected of us instead of what we think will make us happiest.

I am all for being realistic but also I am slowly coming around to the fact that we are often better than what we think we are. We are amazing creatures who can adapt and grow in ways many of us never thought possible. Personally I have only taken one big career gamble in my life. One leap of faith that was not to do with happiness but in fact the total opposite. I was so unhappy and frustrated in what I was doing I had to break free and try something different, even if it didn’t work out. Luckily for me it did work out but it did feel like a huge risk at the time and it was done with my mental health squarely in mind.

This is what I want to see in our education system, people daring to be who they want to be. Being brought up in a very tolerant environment where people don’t judge you based on what sex you are, what sexual orientation you are, what colour you are, what clothes you wear, what make-up you wear, what style your hair is, what your teeth look like, what you do in your spare time, whatever. This all sounds very Utopian I know but unless we dare to dream and have the guts to act then we’ll never create the society that would be a truly wonderful place to live.

I want to see an education system where children have a plethora of opportunities and are able to explore them to the best degree possible instead of being taught a regimented syllabus that gives them the best academic possibilities as defined by the government of the time. Another thing I want to throw in here is the why schools deal with social studies. It is laughable. Social studies are marginalised for more academic lessons. I had five lessons of maths a week but in Year 10 & 11 I had no social studies lessons at all, at all. I’m not even sure I had any in Years 7 & 8 so it was only Year 9 where I had any social studies lessons at all and that was a joke.

Social studies is more important than algebra. It is more important than history, more important than geography, more important than science, more important than foreign languages and I could go on, I think you get my drift. Young people need to learn about the world and being part of a positive and welcoming society. This encompasses sex education as well. The hardest part of growing up is not learning academic things but learning about being part of society. These are the skills that many young people struggle with but we shun it as to give more time to academic pursuits.

Putting the social aspect firmly at the heart of education policy would be a giant step forward both for the children of today and for society as a whole. Teach young people about tolerance and about how our differences are only on the surface. Teach them about how to treat one another. Teach them that just because they dress or act a certain act then you shouldn’t treat them any differently. I know it sounds obvious to many of us but we are seeing a lurch away from tolerance and it scares the living bejesus out of me. This is coming mainly from the elder generation but it filters down.

We need a generation of people who feel free to express themselves without fear of persecution in any way shape or form. It isn’t going to be easy but until we understand the whole journey of life starts how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, allowing us the freedoms to live our lives how we see fit and how how society dictates that we should then we’ll always have a problem. I don’t mind taking small steps but we need to know what the end goal is and find the best way to get to that end goal. Ridding society of intolerance should be that end goal at it starts with our education system. Letting young people discover who they are and letting them express themselves is the starting point as the more different people we are exposed to at the young age then the more accepting we are.

We are all different and until we understand that and embrace that then we’ll never get to where we want to be. So it is time to be radical. Put forward a plan to let our young people grow and if they grow outside of the perceived norms that society expects then so be it. A diverse future will lead to a happier place and isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day – to just be happy?

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Written by neilmonnery

October 22nd, 2014 at 12:06 pm

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More on Southend Politics and the 2015 General Election

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Sometimes folks I get frustrated. No not at my pathetic lack of a private life but more at how some people can read what I write here yet not understand a word that I have written. In the past week I have written extensively about Labour’s decision to select Cllr. Ware-Lane as their PPC for Southend West. In isolation it was the obvious choice but in terms of delivering a Labour MP for one of the two Southend seats then it was not so much of a good move. I explained my reasoning in a simple and logical way. However unsurprisingly said councillor missed the point entirely, which isn’t the biggest shock in the world considering but still.

He writes in his blog post, whose title is taken from a Dale Winton Lottery Programme, In it to win it

I am not sure quite what Neil’s campaigning credentials are although I do know he stood in Westborough ward in 2012. He came sixth place in a ward that at the time had Lib Dem representation; sixth out of six, with a 90 votes and 5.4% of the votes cast. I will leave it to the reader to pass judgement on this but if the strategy was to do as badly as possible then Neil’s campaign was a roaring success.

So he’s not quite sure what my credentials are but he does throw out my Westborough result in 2012 to pass judgement on my credentials. I would expect nothing less from said councillor. I got smashed in 2012 but also I didn’t run my campaign. Also my dad died during that election process so I had no time to actually campaign. I’m sure even Cllr. Ware-Lane would concede that my dad having a major stroke, being on life support and subsequently dying is a fairly good reason for not being busy campaigning but you never know.

My credentials are simple. I work in my day to day life in analytics. I analyse data, a lot of data, for a rather big company. I suspect said councillor is not a fan of sabermetrics, heck I wouldn’t be surprised if he had never even heard of the term. There is a reason Nate Silver correctly predicted all 50 American States in the 2012 US Presidential Election and it isn’t because he is a soothsayer. It is because he analysed numbers and analysed them well. The more data you have them the better your accuracy of predicting a result can be. This data isn’t just about canvass data but looking deeper. It is what I do to earn a living and I like to think I’m at least semi decent at it so my credentials in analytics and therefore reading data aren’t too shabby.

Politics isn’t just about banging on doors and writing leaflets these days (and it should be said to my lot that this is something to learn as well) but the world of politics has moved on. An energetic campaigner can bang on say 200 doors in a canvass session but may only find 50 doors that open for them. People want their information as and when it suits them. Advanced sabermetrics, demographics, social media etc. are all vital tools in analysing a candidates chances of winning an election.

The rest of his blog is a meandering prose of limited facts and more dye in the wool hope. The fact is even in Tony Blair’s surge in 1997, when Labour were sweeping all before them and the Tories were as popular as I am…well anywhere, Labour still fell 8,000 odd votes short. If Labour can’t get remotely close when the Tories were embarrassingly unpopular and Labour were the great hope and riding as high as Ricky Williams did whilst on his year out of the NFL in India, then why would anyone with any semblance of nous believe that Labour can win this seat in 2015?

Another part I want to opine on:

The Nick Clegg bounce significantly boosted the Lib Dem vote; this time around it will be what is known as a dead cat bounce – voters are deserting a party that has kept Cameron at number ten and enabled him to foist all sorts of unpopular legislation on the UK.

The Clegg bounce. Yes it was very significant and very much helped the Lib Dems in Southend West. However the degree of the national Lib Dem bounce wasn’t as much down to Nick Clegg as I think Cllr. Ware-Lane believes. Again I have number crunched and I know more than I suspect he does. Will the Lib Dem vote go down in 2015? I fully expect so. However the last time the Lib Dems (or Lib Dems in previous guises) failed to reach the 9,000 vote mark in the constituency was 1970. What does that tell us?

Well it tells us that a significant number of people in the constituency are inherently liberal. The fact is that the Tories have only once come remotely close to losing the seat (in 1997) and that was to the Lib Dems. In fact had the national Tony Blair bounce not been a factor then it is eminently possible that Nina Stimson would have won in 1997. What would have happened had we seen that result we’ll never know but it does show that Labour do not poll well in Southend West and the reason isn’t because of poor PPCs or councillors or anything like that it is because the demographics aren’t right for them to succeed.

Southend West is generally relatively affluent, certainly when you compare it to Rochford & Southend East. Like most seats there are wards and polling districts that look good for Labour but in general the people in the ward would lean towards voting for the party they trust most on the economy. The Conservative party always poll higher in economy trust compared to Labour.

However this is what I want to write about – Cllr. Ware-Lane’s belief that lots of unpopular legislation has been foisted on the UK. Whilst it may be true that a lot of people are unhappy with the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as the Labour Party and media have dubbed it, more people in Southend West will be effected by the rise in the income tax threshold and the Pupil Premium and the free school meals for under 7s than will be effected by benefit changes. The fact that a million public sector jobs have gone is an issue but not a big issue in Southend West, the fact over 1.5million private sector jobs have been created is just as big a factor. That isn’t spin, it is just demographic fact. If the economy is on the up then Southend West constituents will vote Conservative or Lib Dem and even when it wasn’t – they still voted Conservative or Lib Dem.

Just because one person believes something is unpopular then it doesn’t automatically equate to others believing the same thing. If you put me in a room of fifty blondes and they all turned me down then it wouldn’t necessarily mean the same would happen in a room with fifty brunettes or redheads, oh wait, maybe that is a bad example but you get my point. People come from different backgrounds and have different thoughts as to what is important to them.

He says that voters are deserting the Lib Dems, I would say deserting is a strong adjective in Southend West but a significant proportion are indeed leaving but they aren’t all flocking en masse to Labour. They are going back to the Tories or they are staying at home. Labour will not sweep up 2010 Lib Dem votes in Southend West to any significant degree. In fact I would suggest that more people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but won’t in 2015 will vote Conservative than vote Labour. So a collapse of the Lib Dem vote actually doesn’t help Labour one jot in their goal is indeed to unseat David Amess.

Next his opening paragraph:

My selection as Labour’s General Election candidate in Southend West has inspired the Liberal Democrat’s sole surviving blogger in the borough to write not one, but two, pieces about it. You can almost sense the rising panic at Southend’s equivalent of Lib Dem Central, so much so that they want to me to give in just as I am getting going.

It is nice that he considers me a Lib Dem blogger now as he questioned whether I should be classed as such when I pointed out to them that my blog is actually far more well read than his, ‘Maybe, although if it is yours that out-performs mine I could question whether yours is really a political blog, or a blog that occasionally has political bits in it, he typed. Not that he has a big ego or anything but when I said there was a blog more well read than his in the local blogosphere them boom, he tried to find a way around it. Genuinely amusing.

However it is the panic rising at Southend’s equivalent of Lib Dem Central bit that is truly misplaced. I blog purely in a personal capacity here. I always have done and always will do. I have blogged openly and critically of the Lib Dem party both locally and nationally should I feel it was warranted. I can detach myself from typing with a Lib Dem hat on. I have heard absolutely nothing from Lib Dem Central as to their reaction to Cllr. Ware-Lane’s selection as the Labour PPC, so as for how anyone can sense rising panic is beyond me.

My blog posts were purely looking at things objectively. If Labour do intend to run two significant campaigns across both constituencies instead of prioritising the one that they are more likely to win then it is just poor strategy. Plain and simple. In a Utopian world then every voter gets the full attention from every party at every turn but this is the real world and that just isn’t possible.

To end:

I am in the contest to win it. Southend West Labour Party members deserve a candidate who tries his best, Labour supporters deserve a candidate who tries his best, the electorate in Southend West deserve a candidate who tries his best. David Amess deserves an opponent who will take the fight to him. That a Liberal Democrat views this as bad news merely serves as an additional incentive.

One day Julian will learn to comprehend basic English, sadly this is not that day. I said that it is bad news for the Labour party in their hopes to get an elected member of the House of Commons in 2015, I never said nor implied it was bad news for the Lib Dems. If Cllr. Gilbert won in Rochford & Southend East, it would give Labour a foothold in SE Essex, it would also bring more money from Labour HQ, also they would be able to afford full-time or part-time people on the payroll to help spread the Labour word. Getting an MP in an area which isn’t natural home to a party is key because local activists can rally around that seat and numbers can swell if the MP is doing a good job. It is like a snowball, you have to start the snowball rolling to see speedy progress and to get the snowball rolling you have to win, so when you have a chance to win you go all out for it as the long-term benefits will be far greater.

If Labour want to help ensure the Tories win both seats in 2015 then keep doing what they are doing. Labour have a chance (albeit not a big one but significant enough) to stop the Conservative monopoly in Southend in terms of parliamentary seats, it is a shame for those non-Tories out there that they are doing their best job to pass on this rare opportunity. The Perfect Storm is brewing for Labour in Southend and instead of planning for it, they are busy shooting themselves in the foot to make the task much harder for themselves than they need to.

You know what, I’m going to miss this when I’m gone. I hope my next home will be as interesting politically speaking. Considering I have an inkling of where this may well be, it might even be more exciting!

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Written by neilmonnery

August 28th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Do Southend Labour want to win or fight the good fight but lose?

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In 2010 a lot of political analysts believed that Labour wanted to lose so they could sit on the opposition benches for five years, throw stones whilst the economy turned around and then promise the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to lure people back. It was a very persuasive argument and one that I thought actually carried some merit. Sometimes in life it is better to fight the good fight but lose and say that you’ve fought the good fight without actually then having to make the big decisions.

Yesterday I wrote what I thought was a fair and honest critique of the decision by Labour to essentially run two legitimate campaigns in Southend next year instead of really aggressively targeting one of the two seats. There were two people I expected to rile by my comments and unsurprisingly they both were. I maybe a member of the Lib Dems and therefore I may have a vested interest in things but I can also look at things from a logical point of view and not just spin and push the bandwagon (I initially mistyped that as bangwagon and have smirked to myself).

The fact is political parties do not have an infinite amount of resources, either in terms of dollar dollar bills nor in terms of manpower. Labour of course know this and that is why I never see a Labour leaflet in Thorpe Bay despite living here for several years. They know it is a waste of time and money to write, publish and deliver leaflets in this area. Thorpe Bay is not what you’d call Labour territory as the demographics and mathematics are all wrong.

Cllr. Ware-Lane tweeted me last night that my blog post reminded him that he needed to start his Leigh ward campaign. A nice shot at saying that he was coming to get the Lib Dems at the heart of their western operation. I cried all night I was so frightened at the thought of Labour pulling in the votes in Leigh to come through the pack and beat out the Tories and the Lib Dems in a General Election year. Give me a fucking break. There are votes to be had for Labour in Leigh of course but they’ll be third at best, they will not beat either the Tories or the Lib Dems there even if they ran their whole GE campaign on a ‘Leigh Independence Movement’ backdrop. The numbers nor the demographics are there. It’s not rocket science.

This is where I think a lot of people fall down. Just because I myself am a liberal doesn’t make me think that other people will be just because I am, or I talk to them about liberal values. The same with all the other parties from across the political spectrum. There are swing voters out there, a good chunk of them, but the vast majority will only swing between two parties (although having said that I did meet someone the other day who told me they had voted Lib, Lab and Con within the past five years) but those people are few and far between.

Matthew Dent says that in part he suspects my blog post was at least partially motivated by my own party’s interests, you can read his full blurb here. I can assure him it wasn’t. I know the Tories are winning Southend West next year and deep deep down whilst being second would be great, second gets you nowhere in this game bar momentum. I’m all but certainly out of Southend in the near future (landlord wants to sell and it is time for me to go elsewhere) but even saying that, I still fully expect the Lib Dems to be second next year in the west, with or without a concerted effort by Labour there and even if they aren’t – it won’t be by any significant amount. The Tories will still run away with it and long-term the demographics of the west is more Lib Dem than Labour.

Lets put it into context, Labour came last in five of the west wards in the 2014 local elections, last. It would have been six had it not been for the Greens. They won one ward (the same as the Lib Dems) but the Lib Dems were only last in Chalkwell and Belfairs. Here is the breakdown of the 2,014 council numbers in the west (I have only used the top result for each party in Westborough as two seats were up).

3645 – Labour
4126 – Lib Dems
7945 – Conservative

So even in a down year for the Tories where UKIP had a significant impact on their vote, the Tories cleared Labour by more than double in terms of votes cast and the Lib Dems by nearly double. I just don’t see any reason for any optimism for any party to overtake the Tories next year, certainly when you look at the 2010 numbers and see that the Tories may lose split votes locally but gain them nationally (Amess received around 3,000 more votes than the Tory council candidates in 2010). Of course UKIP could impact the Tory vote should they field a candidate but I would expect their impact to be less dramatic than in the east.

I maybe a Lib Dem member and activist but I am not blinded by loyalty and believe that we can win every battle no matter what the realistic situation is. I can write open and honestly and do so frequently without my Lib Dem hat on but more my Journalism degree hat on and yesterday’s post was one of those occasions. Labour’s high mark in the west is second, Labour’s high mark in the east is first, why not just go for it and go for the win instead of fighting to be best of the rest?

I think the best metaphor I can give is if you are a sprinter going for the Olympic double and someone offered you a chance for a gold in the 100m and a bronze in the 200m or a guaranteed silver in the 100m and a chance for a second silver in the 200m then which do you take? Do you go for gold or do you set your sights on two silvers? I know what I go for…

Politics is not ideal. Yes all parties should be able to put their full resources behind every potential councillor and every potential member of the House of Commons. Every single voter should get the full treatment and should be treated as equal but we all know that is impossible under the current system. You have to prioritise otherwise you risk not getting any member of your party elected. People understand that and strategically I wonder just how much Labour do…

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Written by neilmonnery

August 23rd, 2014 at 10:12 am

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Labour shoot themselves in the foot in Southend

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Sometimes you think it is just about getting the best candidate for the gig, however sometimes it really isn’t if you actually want to win. The more you get exposed to the inner workings of politics you come to understand that to win you have to prioritise, you have to work out where your money is, how to spend it, where to spend it, how the activist is, where the activist base is, how best to use the activist base and so on.

When the 2015 General Election comes round it is highly unlikely I’ll be voting here as it seems now all but certain I’ll be moving out of Southend in the near future. However the seat where I am living is, despite what might be seen as an extremely safe Tory seat, actually not that safe. James Duddridge is an odds on favourite to win again but if you delve into the numbers (which I like to do) then you’ll see that he’s a big favourite, but a big favourite who could lose if everything goes against him. Should Duddridge fall short then it’d be Labour who’d pick up the seat.

Over in the west of Southend David Amess will win another term at as the MP. Of that there isn’t any doubt whatsoever barring a significant scandal coming out about him and even if that happens, I’d expect him to still hold on just. If he lost he’d lose to the Liberal Democrats.

So why am I talking about Labour shooting themselves in the foot? Well they’ve decided to field their arguably two strongest candidates in both seats. Cllr. Ian Gilbert beat out Cllr. Julian Ware-Lane for the Rochford & Southend East nomination. At this point it still was a long shot they could pull off the win here but the fact the Tories failed to win a single seat here in the council elections this year, coupled with the rise of UKIP and what will be a total collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in the east of the town then Labour are live dogs. If Cllr. James Moyies stands in the seat for Parliament next May (as far as I’ve read there hasn’t been any decision on this) then Labour are very live dogs in this seat.

Labour lost by 11,000 odd last time around and 11,000 is quite a majority to overturn, certainly if the party trying to overturn it isn’t exactly sweeping all away in the council elections (which they aren’t) but lets look at the maths again.

The Lib Dems will lose 4,000-5,000 votes in the seat at a pretty well educated guess. You would expect Labour to pick up around half of them, so that majority is now around 9,000 to win. The Tories have been in power, so Labour now aren’t the party of government. This means that the vote for change now is in the hands of Labour and for whatever David Amess’ faults on the other side of the borough, people you speak to (who aren’t staunchly political) say that he is a good constituency MP, I don’t hear the same about James Duddridge. He is kind of an anonymous MP. So his name carries very little cachet. So his personal vote will not be strong.

Then throw in the UKIP factor. I don’t want to put words in Cllr. Gilbert’s mouth but you have to think that he is out in his garden every night looking up at the sky searching for a shooting star and has his ‘Please let UKIP stand here’ wish ready to go. The Tories got just a tick over 19,500 votes last time around, if UKIP took 20% of that vote (which is entirely possible and might even be a low estimate) then that is 4,000 plus votes. Now of course UKIP would also take votes from Labour, certainly in places like Kursaal but not to the same degree.

Strangely the key ward may actually be right here in Thorpe Bay, where Labour are nowhere and will get very few votes. The Tories should sweep this seat in a General Election and this ward votes. If UKIP (or heck how about an ambitious independent?) could make serious inroads into the Tory vote here then it is really game on.

All sounds good for Labour, no?

Well, yes and no. To win they have to throw every resource they have at Rochford & Southend East. They need to run a skeleton campaign in the west and put all their eggs in the one basket. They have a straight choice whether to go for first in the east and finish third in the west, or settle for second in the east in an attempt to finish second in the west. Personally a shot at first and settling for third seems like a no brainer.

Yet they have chosen a man who will certainly go and try to win in the west in Cllr. Ware-Lane. Admirable yes, good politics, most certainly not. Good strategy wins elections often just as much as good policy. I just cannot see Cllr. Ware-Lane being a paper candidate who would spend his time in the east trying to get Cllr. Gilbert elected, which would certainly be the best decision for them strategically. Of course I could be wrong and whilst Cllr. Ware-Lane is saying all the right things publicly, he knows the best thing for Labour would be to hit the east and support Cllr. Gilbert to the fullest of his abilities.

In 2010 the Lib Dems had the most votes in Oxford yet won neither seat, they came a close second in both seats. Had they concentrated on one seat, either seat, they would have won. There are many stories similar to this. If Southend Labour want to gain an MP then they know all their eggs have to be in the east because they have a shot of winning. If they decide to fight both seats to any significant degree then it is highly likely we’ll end up with two Conservative MP’s again across the two seats.

If I was a betting man I’d back Amess and Duddridge to both be returned to parliament next May but on a very good day for the Labour party, they have a shot at dethroning Duddridge. Amess is safe as houses but Duddridge, whilst looking safe could go if the dominoes all fall the wrong way for him and the right way for Labour. So it should be full steam ahead for Labour in the east but you just get the sense that by selecting Cllr. Ware-Lane in the west that they aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket and on this occasion, that would have been the most logical strategy if their end goal was to return an MP to parliament in 2015.

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August 22nd, 2014 at 11:55 am

Lord Rennard kinda but doesn’t really win, the Lib Dems lose. Sums up a lot doesn’t it?

with one comment

First things first. I have no idea what Lord Rennard did or did not do. I don’t have access to the evidence. I have an opinion but that is based solely on the evidence that has been leaked through the media. This opinion is pretty hardened and it would take significant new evidence to move me from my position but I suspect that will not happen.

Lord Rennard was ‘won’ in that he’s had his party membership restored. The allegations against him are credible but not proven. A situation that happens all the time in many different guises in many different professions. In many of these situations I look at those accusing and try to work out if they have a hidden agenda or a bias that would make me skeptical as to their allegations. In this situation I haven’t seen any of that.

The problem Lord Rennard has is that whilst he may feel vindicated, he is perceived as guilty by the vast majority of Liberal Democrats. Most want him gone because they feel he encapsulates the older part of the party and doesn’t embrace what younger liberals think. The Lib Dems as a party do have an issue with gender equality but I don’t think this is because of any inherent sexism within the party, but more to do with legacy and some older members of the party (and lets be honest here – some older members of society as a whole) still struggle with equality as a concept.

The Lord released the following statement:

I am obviously pleased that all disciplinary investigations against me have been brought to an end and that the suspension of my party membership has been lifted.

This has taken a long time. The English Regional Parties Committee began a new disciplinary investigation in January 2014. I was informed by the Committee that this latest investigation was on the basis of, “media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publically (sic) since the announcement of the Webster report results.”

This investigation followed the one conducted last year by Alistair Webster QC, and which resulted in a finding of “no further action through insufficient evidence.”

I am grateful to Chris Willmore, a barrister, parliamentary candidate and now a law lecturer who acted as the ‘independent investigator’ in this latest process. She was extremely thorough in her approach. I was informed by telephone late this afternoon of the conclusion that “there would be no further action”. The rules provided for the investigator either to recommend “charges,” or to say that there was insufficient evidence to proceed further to a disciplinary hearing.

All allegations made about me have now been investigated thoroughly, including by the Metropolitan Police Service, and fell at the first hurdle as there was insufficient evidence to proceed further.

The English Appeals Panel confirmed in July that I could not be criticised over my reaction to the previous report by Alistair Webster QC, as I was not given sight of the report for eleven weeks. The worst that might be said of me in that independent report was that I may have inadvertently encroached on the “personal space” of some of the complainants, and I apologised for this to all four of them.

I remain a committed member of the Liberal Democrats and a strong believer in the principles of the party, as set out in the constitution, and based on the values that led me to join the Liberal Party in my teens.

So basically reading between the lines his defence is that there was insufficient evidence to move forward. He never once said he did not do what he had been accused of or that he was innocent. Just that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with disciplinary procedures and the same at the Met.

He says that at worst he inadvertently encroached on the personal space of several people. Now not to be a wise-ass here but it is pretty hard to inadvertently encroach on someone’s personal space. As human beings we all know what our personal space is and should know what another person’s is. If you don’t then I have serious doubts as to your ability to function as a human being. It isn’t rocket science.

I am very much an innocent until proven guilty guy but in this case I think it is pretty clear that Lord Rennard’s behaviour was not acceptable. Whether that equates to criminal charges I think possibly not because they have investigated and cannot prove anything, fair enough. However internal disciplinary requires a different standard of proof. the fact the Lib Dems bottled it – and lets not beat around the bush here – the people who had this decision to undertake bottled it – the fact they decided to take no further action showed two things. They didn’t want a long protracted fight that would have rumbled in the media for weeks and months more and secondly that Lord Rennard believes that he didn’t do anything significantly wrong.

And that folks might be the most depressing thing of this whole matter. Lord Rennard doesn’t believe his actions were wrong to any significant degree. If I inadvertently encroached on someone’s personal space and they informed me of it I’d be freaking out about it for months. He seems to not see it as a problem. I’m sitting here writing this and still shaking my head.

He hasn’t won anything bar his membership of a political party that doesn’t want him any more. He won’t be a pariah but he is the figurehead for everything wrong within the party according to many people. The Lib Dems should be the radical party who want to make the world a better place, a more equal place, equality in all terms, sex, race, background, sexual persuasion, equality across the board and you have a senior party member who at best (and I stress at best) seems to not know how to act as a basic human being when it comes to women that he has come in contact with.

Now I’m not saying the Lib Dems are the only party with these issues. I am positive other political parties have similar issues as do many businesses. I would like to think that these issues are being dealt with and that the next generation of people coming through are more about equality and believe in it not only to give it lip-service but also in terms of actually looking at other human beings and treating them as equals no matter what their differences are.

The end game is though that the public perception of the party is not good. As the party of the radicals, it comes across that we aren’t that radical and that we can’t take the big decision when faced with one. The party would without a doubt be stronger had Lord Rennard either not been allowed back or had he walked away. Sometimes in life you find that you are not wanted and that the best way to move on is to walk away.

I have found that recently in what was a significant aspect of my life and no matter how much I didn’t want to walk away, it was the only way forward. Lord Rennard should have done the same. If he truly believes in the Lib Dems as the radical party of change then he should know that by him being in the party, that radical change will be harder to accomplish and that is the dagger to the heart. He is too selfish to put the liberal philosophy before his own ego and sense of self-worth.

Lord Rennard will never have the respect of the Lib Dems again and the party as a whole has another big bruise that it will struggle to shake off. All in all everyone loses and nobody wins.

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August 21st, 2014 at 8:38 am

Posted in Politics

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Nick Clegg will win Sheffield Hallam. I don’t understand why Labour disagree?

with 4 comments

Sometimes I read something that I want to blog about so I leave it on a tab on my Google Chrome and it can stay there for days. This time I’m blogging about it within a day. Not too shabby for me.

Rich Clare wrote yesterday in an article entitled Nick Clegg to lose Sheffield Hallam? You’re having a laugh where he speaks about all the reasons why Nick Clegg will hold on to his seat, despite lots of press stories suggesting this he is at best, in trouble, but at worst set for a slam dunk defeat that would rival the Portillo moment from 1997.

The thing is, anyone who has any sense of numbers will know that Nick Clegg isn’t in trouble next year. That might sound ludicrous considering national polling and how disliked he is but the people of the United Kingdom are not voting on whether to have Nick Clegg as their local MP, the people of Sheffield Hallam are and that is the difference. Until people can get their heads around the fact that national polling cannot be extrapolated across different constituencies to give accurate predictions then all this crap will never stop.

Students used to love Nick Clegg. Now they are at best indifferent and at worst down right angry. I suspect most are in the latter group depressingly but such is life. However as Rich points out quite pointedly, the university itself is not based in the Sheffield Hallam constituency and students do not live in that constituency in great numbers. This is one of the lazy misnomers that people have regarding this seat and how Clegg won here and how the Lib Dems turned it into a relatively safe seat 17 years ago.

Labour control South Yorkshire but they’ve never returned an MP in this seat, never, never ever, never never ever. I think you get the point. Since 2010 that constituency has seen 21 councillors get elected, of those 21, 19 were Lib Dems and two were Labour. In a recent by-election Labour threw the kitchen sink at the Lib Dems expecting a win that would cause panic and embarrassment for Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem candidate won with over half of the vote.

Sheffield Hallam is affluent, not just affluent, but stinking rich. The average income is higher than places like Windsor and Twickenham. It has the lowest level of child poverty amongst any constituency in the country. More people in Sheffield Hallam have a degree than Cambridge. The level of professionals in the constituency exceeds practically every other seat in the country. What about all of this screams out a Labour victory?

That’s right. Nothing.

Of course the Tories could take back the seat but they have no real local campaign and are fighting with UKIP, their vote is getting split. so they aren’t going to mount a significant challenge to Clegg next year and nor are UKIP. Seats with lots of rich, educated and professional people are not going to be at the top of the UKIP plan to win seats. Immigration is not exactly an issue in Sheffield Hallam.

So it comes down to whether Labour can change the narrative in the next nine months which they haven’t been able to do in the past four years. Of course they could but I could also get second dates with women that I want to – and we all know that doesn’t happen. Labour need to gain at least 12,000 votes and nothing about the ward demographics or recent history suggests that they’ll get anywhere near that.

Personally I hope Labour keep believing they can unsettle and beat Nick Clegg. If they throw the kitchen sink at an unwinnable seat then they’ll be taking resources away from other places. It would be terrible strategy for Labour to go after a seat they have never won and are in no position to win. However I wouldn’t be stunned if terrible strategy gets deployed and Labour make Sheffield Hallam one of their key battlegrounds. If they do, they’ll lose and lose badly and all they’ll say if they were never expected to win anyway. Sounds like they can’t lose.

Yet if they don’t win a majority and fall just a few seats short, they’ll rue the fact they spent so much time and effort on a vanity campaign. Nick Clegg’s majority will no doubt go down but it will not collapse. Rich sums it up well and if you get on the ground with an open mind then you’ll come away with the feeling that the Lib Dems are safe in this one, but I doubt that will stop the stories because ‘Nick Clegg safe in Sheffield Hallam’ isn’t exactly a sexy story and won’t sell papers or garner page views. Sometimes the news can be just factual but those times are sadly few and far between.

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August 12th, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Politics

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Nick Clegg doesn’t get tough on drugs – he gets smart

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A lot of people think being tough on drugs is the only way to combat the use of drugs that society is plagued by today. I have never had this thought. Whilst at the age of 31 I have never tried – nor had any desire – to try out illegal substances, I think those that do should be helped to get over their problems should their drug use consume them.

Nick Clegg has spoken about this today and has indicated that the party want to end imprisonment for those who are caught with drugs for their own personal use and instead get them medical treatment to get over their drug addiction.

Speaking on the Lib Dem website, Nick Clegg said:

“We are never going to win a ‘war on drugs’. Illegal drugs still cause immense harm to the people who use them and to the communities they live in. We need a radically smarter approach if we are serious about tackling this problem.

“Liberal Democrats believe the first step to ending the war is to recognise that drug use is primarily a health problem. Addicts need treatment, not locking up. And it is a nonsense to waste scare resources on prison cells for cannabis users.

“That’s why we will commit to ensuring that nobody in future will go to prison where their only offence is possession of drugs for their own personal use.

“Instead these people should receive non-custodial sentences, and addicts should get the treatment they need to stop using drugs.

“In the longer term we will develop a more effective approach that frees up resources currently spent on prosecuting users, and reinvests that money in treatment and in the fight against organised crime.

“Liberal Democrats believe in a stronger economy and a fairer society. These liberal reforms will ensure that drug users get the help they need and that taxpayers don’t foot the bill for a system that doesn’t work.”

In short, it is a new grown-up approach to drug issues and one I stand up and applaud. As a society, many people think that punishment is more important than dealing with the cause of the problem. People going to jail are only going to spend time with more criminals and therefore find it much easier to get on to more hardcore drugs and come out of prison less prepared to become a productive member of society.

Drug use is a health problem. That is clearly what it is first and foremost. You don’t punish those caught up in it if you can help them first. Those who are addicted to drugs can turn their lives around and shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves. We all need a helping hand in life from time-to-time and getting over addiction, whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling or anything else is something people both want to do but they also need someone to help them.

This has been one of the best things Nick Clegg has said in a very, very long time. Rehabilitation is just as important as punishment for criminals and when you can help small-level criminals with drug issues, to a) help them get their lives back on track but also b) will long-term ensure their drug problem doesn’t get worse meaning they are less of an effective member of society and in turn more of a danger to others then it is something that we should do.

Drug use is a big issue and being tough on drug users has not really helped, so it is time to take a different approach and this is personally one that I’m very much in favour of.

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August 8th, 2014 at 12:14 pm

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Vote Green, Get UKIP. What uninformed bull-plop from local Labour bloggers

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A month or so ago Cllr. Ware-Lane wrote the blog post entitled Vote Green get UKIP and I shook my head in despair. It was utter bollocks and he knew it but I thought I would let it pass. I have come to understand that Julian’s knowledge of basic maths and reality isn’t the best. He uses one example where had the Greens not stood a candidate in Kursaal ward then Labour may have won and therefore concludes that if you vote Green then you get UKIP. One example folks. One example.

He decided to ignore other examples of where the maths would have been different had certain other parties not won. For example the January West Leigh by-election. Did we see a plethora of ‘Vote Labour, Get Tory’ blog posts? I don’t think so, even though had Labour not stood a candidate in that by-election then the likelihood is that the Liberal Democrat candidate would have won. This happens everywhere. In every council and in every parliamentary constituency. Certain parties will win or lose not because of the strength of their support but because of how the support against them is spread. If it is focused on one party then there is trouble, if it is spread amongst several parties then there is not. That is FPTP politics folks.

So anyway Matthew Dent weighed in recently on the same topic. Splitting the vote: Vote Green, Get UKIP where he comes to pretty much the same conclusion. That being that voting for the Green Party is pointless in a ward where they have no chance of winning and if they don’t want a UKIP councillor then they should back the party in the best position to stop UKIP. All well and good but Labour don’t do that so why should other parties fall in line?

There is an argument that parties should do reciprocal deals within boroughs to help get the most hated opposition out, whoever they are. In Southend that could mean Labour agreeing to not standing candidates in places like West Leigh, Prittlewell and St. Laurence where they are not winning any soon soon and can only help split the vote in the favour of the Tories and UKIP. In return this could mean Liberal Democrats could choose not to run in places like Kursaal, St. Lukes and Victoria, places where they aren’t winning any time soon. This would help both parties gain councillors but it would also stop potential Labour and Liberal voters in those wards from voting for who they actually want to vote for but is that fair or right?

Cllr. Ware-Lane, himself a West Leigh resident chose to support the Labour candidate unsurprisingly in the West Leigh by-election even though he knew it was a wasted vote and would help ensure the Tories won. Did he deride himself for doing this or did he exercise his democratic choice for voting for the party he wanted to win instead of choosing to back the party most likely of toppling the administration party at the time? I think we know the answer to that and this Vote Green, Get UKIP bollocks is exactly the same but in this instance quoted potentially hurt his party, Labour.

It is an issue with our electoral system but it is what it is and people need to stop moaning about it. The country had the chance to move towards a system that would enable the voter to have more influence on that make-up of their parliament (and no doubt councils would have followed) but they decided that because it was a Lib Dem idea that they didn’t want it. I would bet a fair few quid that if we went to the polls in this UKIP surge era then the vote would be a hell of a lot closer but that ship has sailed for now.

So unless Labour (and other parties) want to do deals borough wide then this is going to be the norm. Parties are going to win with under 50% of the vote and when in all likelihood the majority of those who voted wouldn’t want them to win. As politicians, or activists, or just members of the electorate then we are just going to have to deal with that fact. If people want to go out and vote Green then fair do’s and they shouldn’t be blamed or have it insinuated that their vote is the reason a party like UKIP won Kursaal ward. Most people vote for who they want to vote for and some choose to vote for the party most likely to defeat the party they dislike the most.

In some places Labour voters help get in the Tories or UKIP. In some places Green voters help get in Tories or UKIP. In some places Liberal voters help get in Tories or UKIP. In some places UKIP voters help get in Labour. In some places Tories help the Green party to win. In some places the SNP help the Liberals win. This thing happens everywhere and in every direction. To claim that a vote for the Green party helps UKIP citing one or two examples and ignoring all the other examples from all parties across the nation is just pure politics and not reality and that disappoints me frankly. It is lazy and it is cheap but most importantly it is wrong to make sweeping generalisations based on such minuscule ‘evidence’ and I’d hope for better but sadly I don’t expect it.

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August 1st, 2014 at 9:14 am

Lib Dems set to be part of coalition to run Southend Council

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Losing seats and gaining power. It reminds me of the 2010 General Election. The Lib Dems lost four seats whilst only holding one last week as the voters spectacularly said they weren’t enamoured with the party. Yet according to reports in the local rag (and lets be honest logic) they will form a rainbow coalition with Labour and the Independents to run Southend Council for the next twelve months.

I wrote earlier this week that the voters had voted positively for Labour and UKIP and whilst the Tories lost seven seats, they still got the most votes across the town and therefore these parties would represent the views of the voters of Southend to the best degree. Still doing a deal involving these parties was always going to be problematic due to the clear ideological differences between the Tories and Labour and the inexperience and relative unknowns of the new UKIP councillors. I fully acknowledge this but felt it would sum up the views of the voters.

So the Independents, Labour and the Lib Dems altogether. On paper it can clearly work but mathematically it gives them a majority of just one and this is where I have little faith. I don’t feel any Labour members nor Lib Dem members would walk away from their parties but the independents are meant to be just that – independent – and as such have a variety of different politics across their group.

Keeping that band of twelve together without one of them deciding that enough is enough and they remove themselves from the group (like Dr. Vel did) will take some doing. A majority of one is precarious at the best of times but when it is a three-way coalition with one of the three being a band of independents with views across the political spectrum from socialist through liberal to right-wing Tories. If they stay together through the budget then huge kudos.

The electoral maths were really not helpful and this might be the best option available. I honestly don’t know. If the three run the council well over the next year then it will be a huge fillip and will help them politically. For the Lib Dems they do not face up to the independents nor Labour in any obvious target seat in 2015, so if the council does good work then seats such as Blenheim Park, Prittlewell and maybe even St. Laurence will be back into play. For the independents and Labour, both parties play more in the east of the borough where they face up against the Tories in most places and UKIP in one of two. Good governance will help them and with Cllr. Ian Gilbert’s run to win a seat in Westminster as well.

If this deal does go ahead as reported then Cllr. Woodley would become leader and the three parties (well two parties and one group) will have a year to pretty much make or break their political ambitions in Southend for the next few years. If they do well and stop the seawall, stop the closures of care homes as well as restoring paid staff to all libraries then I have little doubt they’ll be popular. If they are unable to find the money for the latter two then it will be tough.

The UKIP leader feels that his party and councillors have been unjustly shutout of any potential coalition and they may have a point but that’s politics. Had UKIP had won one more seat (probably Victoria) then they would be in a much better position due to that bone that I bang one about – electoral maths. Had the Tories won Leigh from the Lib Dems then the same could be said. Still the maths and makeup of the chamber are what they are and UKIP could be shutout by this proposed coalition. I wonder if they regret their pact with the independent group now?

Still here we are. It looks like the Tories are going to sit on the sidelines for a year and it is over to the Independents, Labour and the Lib Dems to show that they can run the town better than the Tories did. I hope that they can because if they don’t then it is very possible that UKIP will be the kingmakers next year and personally I would prefer this not to happen.

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Written by neilmonnery

May 29th, 2014 at 11:05 am