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Tag: local politics

The story of the West Leigh by-election is the rise of UKIP

So here we are. UKIP are four months away from having potentially several councillors on Southend Council. 410 votes in West Leigh was a staggering result but the thing that is worth noting is that people on the doorstep weren’t canvassing as UKIP at all. The UKIP vote is silent but it is there. The disenfranchised vote is loud and unless the three main parties address this quickly then it will be carnage come May in local elections, although I still think in the General Election things will be slightly different.

In Southend, UKIP and the Independent’s are either in an unofficial nod and wink allience or they are not depending on who you talk to and what their mood is at the time you speak to them. However lets put it this way, the UKIP literature is rather similar to what the independents have been saying, just with added anti-immigration phrases thrown in for good measure.

West Leigh is not where you’d expect a strong UKIP vote and clearly they did well on a minimal campaign. We have seen this before in Southend is more favourable wards for them, but with the next local elections being on the same day as European Elections they will fight a more vigorous campaign that will see them make their Southend breakthrough.

Nationally though this news is positive for the Lib Dems. In areas where we work hard our vote seems to be holding up whereas the Tories vote drops with UKIP sweeping up that vote. So when you look at these Lib Dem/Tory battlegrounds then the Lib Dems can either hold or take them at the next General Election. For ages the hope that Lib Dems have been clinging to is UKIP can split the Tory vote and it is perfectly possible it can happen.

However for us locally this is a rude wake up call and all parties should have taken really note of this result. Even though they came 17% away from winning, the fact they canvassed so badly (and we did a lot of canvassing) yet came through so strong says so much. At the count the votes counted from ballot boxes today actually had UKIP right up there with the Lib Dems and the Tories but the postal votes were a lot stronger for the two other main parties.

As for Labour, well it was nice of them to turn up. 7% is around what we expected so that canvassing data held up well. We also thought we’d be nip/tuck with the Tories and who got their vote out today would win it. That UKIP vote though came right out of left field.

UKIP will win seats on Southend Council, they will win seats on many councils, they’ll send more people to the European Parliament than any other party, yet I firmly believe they’ll do all this not because people support them but because they are so disenfranchised. This is where the three main parties have to step up and better engage people on issues and policies. If we fail to do that then I fear for the future.

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A very close second place in West Leigh, so close yet so far away

Losing an election by 55 votes is never ideal but when you consider the last time this seat was up for election we lost by 500 odd then you can see that progress is being made. The Tories held West Leigh yesterday on a 26% turnout with 743 votes with the Lib Dems get 688. However the big story wasn’t who won and who came second place but who came third. I shall deal with that is a separate blog post.

I want to say a big well done to the Lib Dem team in West Leigh, who put up a terrific fight. We had people working Virtual Phone Banks, people coming in from Thurrock, Braintree and Colchester, swelling the numbers of local activists attempting to get the vote out. We knew the turn out would be low and the weather certainly didn’t help. The morning and lunchtime was rainy and at around half five we had a ten minute hailstorm that no doubt would have put voters off going out.

However the big LD news is how well we did considering our candidate had what the doctors described as a minor heart attack a fortnight ago. He underwent a by-pass operation on Wednesday and is doing very well in Basildon hospital and if all goes well he’ll be home again early next week.

Special thanks must be made to Leigh councillors Cllr. Crystall and Cllr. Wexham who both worked extremely hard canvassing. I know Cllr. Wexham wrote to 19 constituents who had passed on issues to the party during the canvass, which he then took up with the Council on their behalf. So even though we didn’t win, we still managed to help 19 people with issues that councillors can help out with, isn’t that what it is all about?

Plenty of others to name but I won’t name them all here, they know who they are. The most important thing is clearly our candidates speedy recovery from his by-pass and all the signs are positive. We mounted a strong campaign and ran the Tories extremely close. Had things fallen for us, certainly with the weather and Chris’s health then I firmly believe we’d have stolen West Leigh. That isn’t me typing through yellow tinted spectacles, that is just how it was going.

We can be proud of running a solely positive campaign. We said nothing negative about any party or any candidate. Chris just spoke about what he felt he could bring to the council and what his main concerns were for West Leigh residents. This is how I believe politics should be. I know negative politics works but I just don’t like it.

So anyway, so close yet so far away and now I best write the real news story of the night – the rise of UKIP…

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Last night I nearly downgraded from Lib Dem activist to just Lib Dem member. I still might.

This morning I saw that Ben Mitchell had left the Labour Party and wrote about the reasons over on SpeakersChair and the timing for me couldn’t have been more apt.

Last night I had trouble sleeping. I often have trouble sleeping as my sleep pattern is crazy but it my brain was going. My whole thought process towards being a local activist was in full blown thought mode. Unlike Ben, I have no issues with being a member of a political party but being an active member locally is something I struggle with and when you get essentially belittled then you wonder what the point of it all is.

Ben writes, “Some of the fierce tribalism on display would make a hardened football supporter blush. It’s amazing how many activists are unable to accept that others have different opinions to them”. Is he wrong? I don’t think he is. I have been active in local politics for a few years now and I see an insane amount of tribalism from all sides. I’m a Lib Dem solely because I have liberal ideology. This isn’t abnormal as more people have a liberal ideology than any other in the UK but not all these people vote Liberal Democrat, let alone are members or activists.

However I don’t sit here and say all Tories are bad, all Labour people are wrong, all independents are self-serving or anything like that. I can’t have blind loyalty and tribalism when it comes to politics because that would be closing off my mind to other points of view. Who grows by not listening to people of differing opinions and learning what what they think? Very few people indeed.

When it comes to local politics, I actually think the person makes a significant difference. When you are voting for an MP, the candidates of course matter but to a lesser degree than locally. When you are a councillor, you have important business but you will be more accountable to your constituents. If people have a problem with tax, or jobs, or immigration, or the NHS, or education then in general their MP will have little influence on these matters. However if you have a problem with flytipping, bins, potholes, care homes, flood defences, car parking charges, pavements and the like then your councillor will have a far bigger impact. They can get these things reported, debated etc. far easier.

This is why I think local politics isn’t just about the party (or non-party in the case of independents). It is about the people. When you vote, I think voters should put considerable weight into voting for the person they believe will best work hard for them. Not just vote blindly for a party. Tribalism is all well and good but I’m pretty sure most activists would state that their are either councillors or MPs within their own party that they question the true ideology of. Heck the amount of Lib Dems who don’t think Nick is liberal just because he went into coalition with the Tories is proof enough of that.

Ben’s summed up by saying, “Being a party activist is ultimately about going along to meetings (where little of worth will be said or achieved), door knocking and leafleting in all weathers, in the knowledge that the people around you all want the same thing: your party in power at all costs. My chastening time in local politics has naturally clouded my views, but even before then I failed at the first hurdle. I didn’t want the same thing as everybody else. Or at least not forever. And in politics that makes you an outsider”.

He really sells it doesn’t he? I’m glad I signed up for this. He says many good things in his article and after last night it hit home. In my situation, we have a by-election here next week and hopefully Chris Bailey will win West Leigh ward, not solely because he’s the Lib Dem candidate, but because having got to know Chris over the past few years, I firmly and genuinely believe he would be an excellent councillor, not only for the Lib Dems, but for the people of West Leigh and in turn the people of Southend-on-Sea as a whole.

Now I haven’t been out on the doorstep canvassing but have been doing the work in the computer system to record all that canvass data. We have moved to a new computer system and I was asked to operate it. I don’t have a problem with this and I feel like it is doing my bit to help the local party. Last night we had a meeting and talk of how the canvassing was going came up and I went to give everyone the data and someone chirped up ‘I had forgotten you’ve stuck your nose in.’ Boy did it fester.

I can be blunt here but if I didn’t firmly believe that getting Chris elected would be a benefit to the people of the town, I’d have downed tools at that moment and stopped being a local activist on the spot. It pissed me off that much and showed a disgusting and belittling attitude. It may have been a throwaway line from someone (I won’t name them) but it just goes to show the problem in local party politics. I was going out of my way to help dealing with all the data and will probably be running the data system on polling day, in turn allowing the candidate to spend an extra 20 odd hours probably overall on the doorstep, talking to constituents to find out what their particular problems are, yet someone felt I was sticking my nose in. Why would any sane person put up with this?

I’m the youngest local activist. In Southend, the party in general is full of the older generation and if they truly believe that someone the party have asked to be the Data Officer, to you know, deal with all the raw data, is sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong when it comes to reporting on data then we have a problem. I’ll be honest, this is seemingly an isolated incident/feeling and in general I have been welcomed in and my thoughts have been taken on board and not just cast aside as the thoughts of an ill-informed youngster. I like the idea of being a youngster. I digress. However I do struggle to see where the new blood will come from. I know of others who have left the local party over the past few years because they felt they weren’t either listened to or generally welcomed. Sad but true. I think however this is a situation not isolated to the party here, but to all parties in all areas.

Most young people who get enthused and excited about politics are willing to put in time and effort to get things done. Victories are celebrated and friendships made. Most of my local party probably joined as Young liberals 30+ years ago and stayed the course. However I see a lot of young Lib Dems these days leave the party around the country. They do this because they don’t feel appreciated, liked or wanted. Many have said its because of local issues more so than national ones. This is a problem some local parties will have more than others. Most of these people are still engaged with the political scene but are burned out of the tribalism and cliquishness of local parties.

New members should always be embraced. I will though say that new members shouldn’t come in and ‘rock the boat’ as it were. It is a tricky business. We’ve all been in groups where new people come in and upset the apple cart. It does take time to become comfortable with new people, whether they be young or old. So I do think that new members and activists need to take time to understand how things work but they should never be belittled or felt unwanted. That isn’t a way to grow and diversify.

So for now I write – and in turn I seethe. When people help they should be thanked and respected. I don’t even have too much of an issue with not being thanked (although I’ve got to say, I have been by pretty much everyone for work on the website and our new data system) but you’ve got to be respected. When you are told you are basically not wanted then we have a real problem and people wonder why others get disillusioned and drift away from party politics. Most don’t leave the party like that, they just slowly just drift away…

This is sad as last Friday I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening chatting politics with the last person I voted for in a General Election. It was good to just discuss politics and talk liberal philosophy and the future of the Lib Dems, both locally and nationally. Once more I felt enthused about politics but within a few days one throwaway line makes me question whether all the time is worth it. I could easily fill up my spare time with other endeavours.

I am a liberal and I am a Liberal Democrat. However am I really getting much out of being a local activist? This is something I question and I question more all the time…

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Why Brentwood Tories have disgusted me in their treatment of Lib Dem Cllr. Chilvers

My blood rarely boils. Tonight it is pumping about my body like nobodies business. You see this evening the Tories banded together and decided that Cllr. Karen Chilvers wasn’t up for being Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee because basically she was scrutinising them and wasn’t letting them do whatever they like. Interesting decision.

So they put a motion to remove her as Chair (which from what I can gather is against the actual constitution as currently written, although this seems to have been up for much debate) which succeeded tonight. A Conservative councillor will now oversee the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, I’m positive a Tory will really hold the Tory administration to account but whatever. However there were two things that really fucking hacked me off.

Firstly about how personal it got. Some of the things said about Cllr. Chilvers were vile. Look you can not like someone, we get it but why does politics get so personal? It was character assassination at its absolute worst. Whatever you think of Cllr. Chilvers, like her or not, you can’t arue that she is an effective councillor who works thoroughly hard for her constituents.

At local level I really do believe that there are plenty of terrific councillors from all parties. Yes I would naturally gravitate to saying the Lib Dems are the best but I won’t sit here an say everyone from other parties or independents aren’t standing up for the people they represent and work hard to ensure they get their voice heard in council.

Tonight though the vote went along party lines, a 20-15 vote was predicted and a 20-15 vote is exactly what we got. The whole opposition spoke glowingly about Cllr. Chilvers, whether they agree with her politics or not, they thought she was working hard and being effective in her role as chair of this committee. The Tories though all banded together because they decided they didn’t want to actually have effective scrutiny, they wanted life on easy street and that brings me the second point that really made my blood boil.

The Tories clearly do not have the best interests of the residents at the core of this motion. They would prefer to have ineffective scrutiny as long as it makes their lives easier and fulfills their personal vendetta against Cllr. Chilvers. Ensuring their personal vendetta is worth them screwing the people of Brentwood they are meant to represent. How can any politican honestly think this is a good thing? How can any councillor look a constituent in the eye and say they’ll do the best they can to get the best thing done for them, when in fact they’ll do the opposite as long as it makes them feel big.

Cllr. Chilvers is a big girl who’ll carry on working hard for the people she represents. I do hope and firmly believe the people of Brentwood West saw what life was like without her and swiftly voted her back into power. These voters had so much dislike and mistrust of the Lib Dems nationally that they lost a great hard-working councillor and they quickly realised that local and national politics are vastly different.

So what have we learned from the events tonight?

Well basically the Brentwood Tories put their own agendas above those of the residents they are supposed to represent. They don’t like Cllr. Chilvers and decided that she should be removed from her position to make their lives easier and to stroke their own egos. I didn’t see the whole debate as I was on air this evening and the webcast was paused, but from what I saw seemed pretty clear that Cllr. Roger Hirst will go home this evening, look in the mirror whilst cleaning his teeth and he’ll smirk to himself, nod and think, ‘I’m a big man, I’m awesome.’

The events of tonight put the whole council to shame. It wasn’t a debate. It was a witchhunt. Cllr. Chilvers had no chance because the Tories all decided that Cllr. Chilvers was unfit for the position. Cllr. Murphy said all the councillors should be disgusted and embarrassed at what was going on. She claimed she didn’t know what a whip was and despite being appalled by everything, she still voted to remove Cllr. Chilvers. If she was that disgusted and embarrassed surely she’d be most outraged by the person who brought the motion?

I worry about politics when things get this personal. I worry when people can stand and look at another person and say some of the things they said tonight. If this was in any line of work you’d say they were bullying. One thing though is the opposition parties can point out that the Tories now do not work for residents first, they work for their own personal gratification first and that is not what the people of Brentwood deserve.

Like Cllr. Chilvers or not, she works hard and was an effective chair of that committee. Having her in that position was the best thing for the people of Brentwood but as we now know, the best thing for the people of Brentwood is not what the Brentwood Tories want. The best thing for the Brentwood Tories is what the Brentwood Tories want first and foremost and that is now plain to see to anyone that follows the local politics scene of this particular Essex borough.

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Southend Council will not move to four-year all-up elections

At 23:54 tonight the process of moving to four-year all-up elections in Southend came to a juddering holt as 26 councillors voted against the proposals. They were voting on whether their should be a full consultation regarding the matter, which would then lead to a special vote on the issue down the line. Had the proposal made it through this special vote then 2015 was the year when we’d see all-up elections.

The debate did concentrate along party lines but the numbers show that a couple of Tories had to have gone against the motion. At the named vote I couldn’t make out some of the votes as people had quiet voices but seven of the eight Liberal Democrat councillors in the chamber did vote against. I was unable to hear Cllr. Wexham’s vote but when he stood up in the debate he strongly hinted that he was against the proposal so I suspect he did indeed vote against but I could not make out his response.. Cllr. Betson was not at the meeting.

The debate rested on two issues, firstly the saving of around £50k a year that would be saved by going to all-up elections and whether the people of Southend are better served by having all-up elections or not. Several councillors including Cllr. Velmurugan and Cllr. Longley said that the money could be saved by reducing the allowances, Cllr. Longley said that reducing allowances by £1,000 a year would indeed save the same amount of money.

‘The Price of Democracy’ was the buzz sentence. Councillors who were in favour of this move believed that the public were fatigued by voting in three of every four years for a councillor, they had the opinion that if they only voted once every four years then they would become more engaged and enthused with the democratic process. Whilst I do believe that there are people who don’t like getting their doors knocked by people looking for votes, there are many who like to be fully engaged and enjoy hearing from political activists, councillors and potential councillors.

I think it was Cllr. Terry who made the point about the hypothetical situation if Boris were to get Boris Island through that an ‘Anti Boris Island’ Party could spring up in Southend and swing into power on that one standalone issue. This would be fine but it was a good example as to how one issue can dominate an election and result in good and experienced councillors being kicked out, leaving their experience on the sidelines for at least four years.

Personally I’m in favour of electing in thirds as it means councillors can’t rest on their laurels. I like the fact that nine wards in Southend aren’t just solely represented by one party. I may be a card carrying Lib Dem but I don’t think people should vote for someone – certainly not at local level – solely because of who they stand for. Local elections should be about local issues. If the best person is standing for a party you might not vote for nationally then vote for them. Councillors can’t change the world but they can sort out day-to-day problems and that is who people should vote for.

I think all-up elections would lead to disillusionment and allow councillors to rest upon their laurels, I really do. Also all-up elections mean that national trends and swings can overshadow what is actually going on locally. There are other ways that money can be saved that don’t impinge on the democratic process and the evolution of council. I’m sure any dominant party would prefer all-up elections as that will lead to them being able to push through more ideological measures with greater ease, but as a liberal I think the more debate and variety in the chamber leads to more middle of the political spectrum politics and unsurprisingly I’m all for that.

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A Labour councillor wants ‘fairness’ but can’t understand what exactly is fair.

I do love it when councillors open up blog posts talking about my love life. It is kinda sweet isn’t it? Well that is exactly what Labour Cllr. Ware-Lane did today on his blog post Giving into greed? I’d prefer fairness which was his response to my letter to the Echo regarding the tax cut for the higher rate of tax payers that occurred. I knew he would respond in kind and still miss the point. This is why I at times dislike politics and politicians because they are so stuck in their ideological ways that they won’t actually see the big picture.

I say this primarily because of the following line from Cllr. Ware-Lane’s blog:

For me it is “from each according to their ability”. If this means that some millionaires’ loyalty to the UK is bounded by their unwillingness to pay their share then to them I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Yep those people who were putting in large sums of money to the public purse. Yeah we don’t want them. I’m sure he can walk around his Milton ward speaking to residents and telling them that it doesn’t matter that Children’s Centres are closing and Libraries are under threat etc… because the money that could keep these things open would be bad money and we don’t want that.

You see my whole point was simple. Yes those with broader shoulders should bear the largest loud. We agree. However I also know that money into the public purse is kinda the point of tax. So why have a tax system that brings in less revenue when instead we could have a tax system that brings in the highest revenue possible from those paying the highest tax rate? Myself and the councillor in question have debated this before and we just don’t agree. He prefers less money for public services as long as the rich get taxed harsher. For me this is a dumb position and not what I’d expect of a Labour councillor and a man who wants to be my MP.

One further line I want to highlight:

Are Liberal Democrats now abandoning the pretence of doing what is right in favour of what generates the most income?

First of all I don’t speak for all Liberal Democrats. I’m but a mere member of the party. This though perfectly demonstrates why I think Labour are a shambles at the moment and why despite my upbringing I am a Lib Dem and not a Labour member. The ‘pretence’ of doing the right thing. The right thing is finding the right balance that generates the highest income possible. That is simple and straightforward. Whatever that number is then I’m all for it. I’d prefer more millionaires to pay in less if overall it leads to more revenue being generated. The ‘right thing’ isn’t just to flog the rich for being rich.

Until Cllr. Ware-Lane (or anyone else for that matter) can find a way to stop people from relocating from the UK to Monaco, Switzerland or any other country with a more preferable tax situation than the UK then people are free to leave the country and not pay tax here.

Personally I’m all for public services. At least we now know that Cllr. Ware-Lane is not unless the money comes from people he deems to be the right people. He prefers less money for public services as long as the richest people individually pay more even though as a group they in fact pay less.

As for ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ oh pur-lease. ‘Oh so you don’t want to pay our 50p tax rate well sod you – we didn’t want your money anyway. We’ll have to cut public services for example close a children’s centre but at least we know that ideologically we didn’t want your money anyway.’ I’m sure people on the bread line and those who rely on public services would stand up and applaud such a stance. Oh wait. No they wouldn’t.

To sum up, Cllr. Ware-Lane has showed me exactly why I at this point in time I think Labour are the least grown up of all the three main political parties in Westminster (and lets be honest – considering the way the Tories deal with issues such as Europe that is saying something). We all have our ideologies. That is what makes us but ideology doesn’t always work well in the real world and at some point we have to be realistic instead of Utopian. The 50p tax rate was not working in terms of getting the richest to share the largest load because many of them just left the country and therefore paid in nothing. This left those in the 50p tax rate sharing the load but they couldn’t share the load as well as all the people that were sharing the load when the tax rate was at 40p.

He wants fairness. He wants those who earn the most to pay the most. We all want that but the problem is these people have a choice – just like we all do – however of course it is easier for richer people to up sticks and move. I’ll end with this analogy that he might understand (or he might not – his whole concept of basic economics seems pretty out there) but 6,000 people holding up larger weights cannot hold up as much weights as 16,000 holding up smaller weights. Fairness is about seeing the amount of money these people can put into the system as a group and not seeing them as individuals. That is the mistake he (and others) make and that is why I get so disillusioned when people go on about how the tax cut from 50p to 45p is a reason why there is less money for the public purse.

That quite simply is not true.

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My letter to the Echo Re: ‘Tax cuts for millionaires’

I actually got so annoyed over the use of the tax cuts for millionaires being a reason for less money being available for investment that I got off my fat arse on the sofa and plonked my fat arse on my PC chair and wrote a letter to the editor on it. Yes millionaires are getting a tax cut. That it obvious but a tax cut for them doesn’t automatically equate to less money being in the public purse. It really bugs me that people can’t get their heads around that basic principle of economics. If more people pay less then it can raise more than fewer people paying more.

Do I support a tax cut for millionaires? Well that depends. I think the main purpose of the higher tax rate is to raise the most people possible and if 45p is the magic number then good times. Tax isn’t there for ideological reasons. It is there to raise as much revenue for the public purse as possible.

So anyway I think it is fair to say that it got edited a fair bit so here is the full version below:

I am bored about this ‘tax cut for millionaires’ propaganda that Labour are pushing. I expect it in Westminster but when Labour Councillors such as Cllr. Gilbert and Cllr. Ware-Lane start throwing it around I feel as though someone needs to actually point out some of the basic mathematics.

You see paying tax at a higher level doesn’t necessarily equate to more tax revenue for the Treasury to spend on public services. In fact in this instance it firmly does not.

The fact of the matter is millionaires – due to the fact they are millionaires – can choose where to live far easier than most of us. If they decide that paying 50p tax is too much then instead of just paying it and moaning they relocate and leave the country meaning they pay no tax to HMRC instead.

Figures published at the time show that 6,000 people paid the tax rate when it was at 50p raising a total of £6.7bn in tax revenue. In the previous tax year when the rate was set at 40p we saw 16,000 people paying tax raising £13.7bn in tax revenue. Therefore the higher tax band raised £7bn less when it was set at 50p compared to when it was at 40p.

It isn’t rocket science. It is common sense and pretty basic economics but yet Labour pedal this lazy (but I grant you – rather effective) spiel. So the question these Labour councillors have to reconcile with is what the primary goal of the higher tax band is.

For me it is to get the balance right so that the most revenue as possible is raised. Seemingly for Cllr. Gilbert and Cllr. Ware-Lane it is to get tax rich people for being rich – even if it means less money for public services. It is an ideological thing.

Also another thing that galls me is that the Labour government kept the 40p higher tax rate for all but a few days of their 13 year dominance of the House of Commons. They raised it to 50p days before the 2010 General Election in what only can be described as a cynical ploy to gain votes and put the next government if it wasn’t them in a position where financially they had to cut the higher tax rate knowing politically it would be hard to justify.

I just thought it was time to throw in some maths into the mix to see if lazy propaganda actually stands up to it. In my opinion it is clear that it does not. Hopefully the two Labour councillors I’ve mentioned have learned something from this.

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Banning takeaways from serving hot food until 5PM? Excuse me…?

Just checking the date folks. Bear with, bear with, bear with…wait it’s not April 1st. What the hell? Seriously what the hell? Ok I suppose I should probably explain what I’m going on about. Well Salford Council are proposing not allowing takeaways from selling hot food until 5PM in the vicinity of a school in an attempt to force children to live a healthier lifestyle. In a way it is a noble cause because as a nation we eat worse and have less exercise than we used to. The health of us all should be a huge concern but where do we draw the line between individualism and the state dictating what we can eat and when?

Cllr Margaret Morris, assistant mayor for health at Salford Council, said: “Takeaways create jobs and provide a service but these ideas are to make sure that they are opening in the right places and not having a negative impact in our city.

“We don’t think they should be serving hot food over the counter before 5pm near schools, as children should be encouraged to eat healthily, so we have made this clear in our proposal.

“Public health and helping to reduce obesity levels are a top priority, and while planners cannot control the food that is sold, we would like every new premise to offer well promoted healthy alternatives so people can have an informed choice about the food they eat.”

Now the debate about whether takeaways have a negative impact is a fair one to have. Just today I saw a video from the local police appealing for help in identifying a man who decided to kick off in a local kebab place. There is certainly only a finite number of these establishments that should be in any single area. That is plain for all to see and dictating what hours they should be open is a legitimate issue for the local council but linking it to the health of our nation’s youngsters is something I can’t go with.

Children should be encouraged to eat healthily but at what point do the council stop? Do they stop newsagents from selling sweets? Do they rip out the tuck shops in schools? Vending machines? Should students bags be searched for chocolate at the gates? It is a slippery slope when you start saying that certain foods should be accessible to people at certain times but others should not be.

The problem with public health and obesity levels do not lie at the feet of local Councillors. It lies in educating people about being healthy and looking after themselves. Focusing on young people is all well and good but where do they learn from? They learn from us adults. If we don’t take good care of ourselves then why would the little ones? As a nation we need educating but we also have the right to choose how to live our lives.

I hope this idea never makes it into practice as all it does is open the door to Councillors to dictate far more than they ever should. People should have an informed choice about what they eat – the lady makes a fine point but also if they choose to eat the less healthy option then that is their choice and not yours. It just reminds me of the day when I was the foreman of a jury and the key witness was an 11 year-old girl and there was a mother in her 40s in the jury room who kept on saying, ‘I don’t think my 11 year-old daughter would lie’ and we’d constantly retort that it wasn’t her 11 year-old that we were having to decide whether they were a credible witness or not. Sometimes people think they should run other people’s lives how they would like to run their families and that my friends (and I suppose foes) is not the role of local Councillors.

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