Friday, 30 November 2012

That Leveson Report

Whilst the national press took an expected pasting yesterday when Lord Leverson published his recommendations, I am pleased that David Cameron in a heartbeat got the dangers of being the First Prime Minister since 1695 to propose state regulation of the press.
Cameron’s instinctive reluctance to legislate, for me, is well founded at this juncture. Putting statute in place that allows effective government control of the media is abhorant...and David Cameron recognises that. 
I totally agree that phone hacking is wrong, repugnant even, but there are existing laws in place to prevent this and those accused, if found guilty, should feel the full force of the law. I also accept the need for a replacement of the Press Complaints Commission but it does not need to be underpinned by state regulation.
Without a free press we would never have had the exposing of MP's expenses, the thalidomide scandal and even, ironically, phone hacking. Whether you are on the right or left in British politics we have had moderate governments in living memory but statutory involvement will never be repealed giving license for further draconian legislation to be bolted on in the future by those who wish to curtail freedom of speech and expression.

CCTV Vehicle Annual Re-assessment

Yesterday, at the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committee meeting, one of the pre-scrutiny items for members to discuss on the agenda was the re-assessment of the CCTV vehicle. The concept of pre-scrutiny was introduced after the May elections in order to allow members to input their ideas, comment and make revisions before a final paper is tabled at cabinet.

Since the vehicles introduction since July 2011, it was always intended that after two years in operation the CCTV vehicles would be subject to a review but following concerns raised by some I decided to bring forward the review after a year in operation. It was generally a good debate with many constructive comments and suggestions including proposals by some of its fiercest critics to extend its hours of operation.

Although not part of the paper, I even floated the idea of further transparency of the CCTV vehicles by canvassing opinion of the scrutiny members on the idea of publicising the routes and areas the CCTV car operates allowing members to put forward suggestions as to where and where not the CCTV vehicle should operate. This suggestion had the full backing of the scrutiny committee and will be incorporated into the full report which will be decided by cabinet.

Whilst the report was welcomed and fully supported by members from all of the groups it sadly still didn't seem to satisfy the Shoeburyness Independent Party serial bandwagon jumper Cllr Anne Chalk.   Despite the report stipulating that the primary purpose of the CCTV vehicles were not to raise revenue and that they were not deliberately targeting certain areas and accepted by the committee, it still did not stop Cllr Chalk claiming so. The drivel that the scrutiny committee and the poor soles in the public gallery were subject to can be found here.

It was clear that her main gripe was the vehicle patrolling Shoebury High Street and can only presume that is because she lives there. To here credit, she didn't say I was wrong when I pointed out the absurdity of her not wanting the CCTV vehicle in Shoebury High Street but has her party colleague criticising the council for the vehicle not stopping to catch a motorist parked on double yellow lines in a neighbouring road.

I was however branded sarcastic when I mentioned that she had asked for the CCTV vehicle to be deployed on East Beach to monitor noise nuisance which is clearly outside of the powers as prescribed in law by the DfT.

During a break in proceedings, a resident in the public gallery quipped that Cllr Chalk's comments reminded them of the famous Albert Einstein quote Insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting to get different results.

A quick check this evening on Cllr Chalk's blog reveals that since the site went live in March of this year, 13% of her posts have related to the CCTV vehicle and it being a revenue raiser and unfairly targeting Shoebury High Street. This is clearly her most favourite subject by some distance. With this in mind it could be enough to make some think.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Christmas in West Shoebury

This Sunday, the festive season arrives in West Shoebury. In Ness Road, the traders will be switching on their Christmas Lights and in West Road, the West Road Community & Traders Association will be hosting their Christmas fun day in the West Road Shopping Area starting at 11:00. If you are around, why not come and support local shops and Children will also get the chance to meet Santa!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Chaos Caused by Flooding

It was an earlier than usual start for me today as I was invited to appear on the BBC Essex Breakfast Show this morning at 06:22 as flooding caused travel chaos across the county yesterday following sustained heavy rainfall on Monday night.

I was asked for my views on the disruption to Southend residents after the Fairglen Interchange was flooded and whether something needed to be done as this area has been susceptible to flooding for around 40 years following any sustained heavy rainfall.

I fully understand the frustrations that commuters in and out of Southend faced yesterday, as I had travelled less than a mile in around an hour and half trying to get to work in Barking. I heard some horror stories that some journey's were to East London were taking around four to five hours. Fortunately, I have the ability to work from home so I gave up on my journey and headed home so my day wasn't as unproductive as it could have been.

Whilst it would have been easy to beat Essex County Council with a big stick accusing them of 'not doing enough' at Fairglen I wanted to use the opportunity this morning to act as reminder of the devastation to peoples homes, travel disruption, impact on business and the loss of life that flooding has brought to many parts of the country in the past week and the importance of local and national government doing all that it can to mitigate the risks of flooding and boosting flood defences where required.

Whilst Southend isn't immune to flooding following heavy rainfall, Southend and parts of my ward in West Shoebury are very much at risk to coastal flooding and we need to do all that we can to maintain our flood defences.

Whilst I accept that not everyone will be supportive of the preferred option for improved flood defences at Shoebury Common, I'm not sure any scheme will have 100% support, what I am sure most will be encouraged by is the issue of flooding is being taken seriously at Shoebury Common in West Shoebury in principle and that money is willing to be invested on improved defences to protect peoples homes, lives and businesses.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

From time to time I get asked my views and opinions on a range of local, national and international issues. Whilst I do tackle these on this blog, I have created a new FAQ's Page to put the burning questions that you have in one easy accessible place which I will update on a regular basis. If you have a burning question that you want to ask please email me at

Sunday, 18 November 2012

When the Electoral Commission Conduct a Review of the PCC Elections it Needs to Take a Hard Look at Itself

It came as no surprise on Friday that the Electoral Commission announced that it is to conduct a review of the PCC elections.

It shouldn't take too long and probably could be conducted during a commercial break as it does not need membership to Mensa to realise that an election to any new post will always have a reduced turnout but combined with holding a national set of elections in November as well as lack of information about the candidates available to the electorate then it is hardly a surprise that turnout in Essex was below 13%.

What is inexcusable for me was the guidance given by the Electoral Commission in polling stations and on postal ballots as to how to fill in your ballot paper.

With the supplementary vote system used for the first time in large parts of the country, it was imperative that the guidance was accurate and factually correct. The guidance, shown on the picture, was standard across the country. The main issue is that the guidance says that you mark a cross in a box on column one and also a cross in a box on column two, whereas the correct advice should say that a second preference vote was optional.

In the first few days of the postal votes being issued, I received three calls from residents saying that they didn't want to choose a second candidate. My in-laws who voted in Waltham Abbey were told
by polling staff that if they didn't choose a second candidate their ballot paper would be rejected!

As I had a proxy vote for my brother, who was away on Election Day I needed to visit the polling station. I put the staff to the test and asked if I had to choose a second candidate and, to their credit, I was told that it was optional.

What concerns me is that the advice given could have impacted some of the results across the country. For example, in Warwickshire, the Labour candidate was ahead of the Independent candidate after first preference votes. As it is inevitable that most people who have allegiance to a particular party will not want to vote for another party, based on the advice given with postal votes and in polling stations it is not unreasonable to assume that if forced to vote for a second candidate they would take a punt on an Independent candidate which ment that the Independent candidate won after second preference votes were counted.

These elections have without question have been conducted in a shambolic manor which would disgrace a banana republic. I just hope that I never have to see a set of elections conducted in the same way ever again.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Nick Alston Elected as Essex Police & Crime Commissioner

Conservative candidate Nick Alston has been elected as the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex. The full result is as follows:

Nick Alston - Conservative 51,325
Mick Thwaites - Independent 40,132
Val Morris-Cook - Labour 27,926
Linda Belgrove - Independent 22,163
Andrew Smith - UKIP 15,132
Robin Tilbrook - English Democrats 11,550

After second preference votes:

Nick Alston - Conservative 62,350
Mick Thwaites - Independent 58,664

My congratulations go to Nick Alston a Commissioner who will put the residents of Southend and Essex first.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Time to Fess Up

Reading an article in today's Telegraph, I never thought I would ever say this but I actually agree with Yevette Cooper in that all successful candidates in Thursday's PCC elections should disclose details of their dealings with lobbyists and private contractors.

I wish, however, that Yevette would be bold enough and instruct all Labour PCC candidates to reveal how much they are being funded and supported by unions and what strings are attached if and when they are elected.

Amid growing controversy about the backers of police and crime commissioner candidates, it can also be revealed that at least one Labour candidate has taken money from a police staff union for his campaigns.

Clive Grunshaw, who is running in Lancashire, declares a £5,000 donation from the Unite union for his campaign. Unite represents thousands of police civilian staff. To my knowledge, no other Labour candidate declares any financial backing at the Electoral Commission.

Another union, Unison, whose members include PCSO's and other police civilian staff and is the second biggest in the police after the Police Federation, has said it is “supporting” the campaigns of three Labour candidates, John Prescott in Humberside, Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire and Mark Burns-Williamson in West Yorkshire.

It doesn’t feel right to me. The Labour PCC's who are elected are going to have to make decisions about staff whose representatives have given them money. You might have to decide, for example, about the balance of PCSO's versus police in your force, with the PCSO's in a union which has funded them and the police officers in the Federation, which hasn’t.

Independent candidates, for all their claims of purity, can potentially have even more baggage than candidates from the established parties. Under a loophole in Electoral Commission rules, independent candidates do not have to publish details of their donors until after the election.

In Sussex, the Independent candidate David Cocks has been embroiled in a scandal after his company, Take Care Now, has been accused of trying to hide a criminal from the police of which he now is attempting to become a commissioner leading some to suggest that he is unfit to hold any position of responsibility and must not be placed in any position of trust under any circumstances.

In Lincolnshire, the independent candidate, Mervyn Barrett, had to resign after it was exposed by the Sunday papers that he was being funded and supported by American right-wing lobbyists and companies backing police privatisation.

In Dorset, another independent, Martyn Underhill, is refusing to say which “household name” company and businesses have backed his campaign to the tune of £23,000 and the Independent candidate in Durham has also been accused of the same.

Despite the tub thumping by the Independent Party here in Southend about taking party politics out of policing, for me, candidates having to repay back favours to their big business donors and backers is something that they seem happy to ignore.

Wouldn't it be nice if the Independent candidates here in Essex led the way and were up front before polling day about who may be potentially bankrolling their campaign.

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"

I would like to give my thanks to the Rev Frank Smith and the organisers of the Shoebury Remembrance Sunday event this morning which I was delighted to be able to attend.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Dishonest Mick?

With the weather disrupting my campaigning today, it has at least given me a chance to catch up on my backlog of Southend Echo's.

I couldn't help but notice in Thursday's edition the full page advert from Independent Police & Crime Commissioner candidate Mick Thwaites ahead of the elections on the 15th November.

Any promotional material published during the official election period, under electoral law, needs to have a legal imprint which shows who the material is published and printed by.

I was surprised, unless my eyes are deceiving me, that the full page ad appears to have no legal imprint at all on it. I do find it somewhat ironic that a former copper, bidding to run Essex Police could potentially be in breach of electoral law.

It is the campaign slogan 'Honest Mick Thwaites 100% Policing 0% Politics' which I believe compromises him more than the suspect, or lack of, imprint.

When you describe yourself as honest, implying that your opponents are telling porkies, you really do need to ensure that there are no gaping holes in your message and surely practise what you preach. In a post earlier this week on his blog, Cllr Ware-Lane even suggests that the slogan makes him sound like a spiv.

It is the 0% Politics which I frankly find laughable. By actually standing for any election you are a politician. Just because you are non aligned to a political party does not exonerate you from being a politician.

If there was any doubt about the politics of Mick Thwaites then we only need to refer to a tweet from Mick back in June who confirms his 'politician' status to the Labour PCC candidate.

At a recent hustings it is understood that Mick got a little hot under the collar when asked if he was the Lib Dem candidate at these election in all but name. An article in the Echo just last week was also intriguing, in that it was revealed that Mick signed the nomination papers of the Graham Longley, the leader of the Lib Dems in Southend and the 2010 Lib Dem parliamentary candidate in Rochford and Southend East.

With all the evidence mounting, so much for being 0% politics!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Police & Crime Commissioner Elections

Whilst doing the rounds of my campaigning last weekend, I had a long and thoughtful discussion with one resident on the merits of electing Police & Crime Commissioners.

Do we need to politicise the Police? was the first question that I was asked. A question that I have asked myself since the legislation to elect a figurehead for each of the 41 Police Constabularies was passed.

I responded in that I do not believe we are politicising the Police, it was the last Labour Government who politicised the Police, Lord Blair and Lord Stevens are a couple of examples amongst many, this Government has only created elections to elect a figurehead so somebody can be held accountable for Policing in Essex for the first time.

I admit, I was very sceptical in the beginning but with the scandal of Hillsborough fresh in the mind — and five chief constables, in the last six months alone, sacked, suspended, forced to resign or placed under investigation — it appears hard to believe that police leadership cannot be improved and convinces me that electing Police chiefs are actually no bad thing.

Do you think party politicians should be standing? followed. Do you have a problem with party aligned local councillors for example, going onto local schools governing bodies? I asked. No, the gentleman responded. Do you think it is wrong to hold elections if there is more than one candidate for a vacancy on a school governing body? Well of course not, he replied, looking puzzled as to where this was leading, the point is, I explained, we have this level of democracy in schools with political involvement and nobody complains so why not the Police?

Do you know much about the Independent candidate who lives in Shoebury? was the third question. You mean Mick Thwaites, the former Southend borough commander, I replied. He’s a former copper? I was inquisitively asked. We can’t have a poacher turned game keeper running our Police that is worse than a party politician being the figurehead followed.

Who are you calling on behalf? was the final question. I’m calling on behalf of Nick Alston the Conservative candidate? came my final reply. Do you know the Conservatives are the only ones to knock on my door and deliver any information about their candidate – on that basis you will be getting me and my wife’s vote!

Whilst I was delighted that my small contribution may have helped win over this particular resident it has become apparent whilst campaigning over the past few weeks is that people are aware there are elections but do not know absolutely anything about the candidates.

With Police Constabularies being such large areas, it is nothing far short of a scandal that a free election communication was prohibited unlike in General and European Elections.

With the onus on campaigning falling to local party activists, a November election with the cold and dark nights doesn’t create much enthusiasm meaning that delivering literature to inform residents for all candidates is difficult.

I just hope that when the PCC’s come up for re-election, we do not have a repeat of these issues.

Webcasting of Full Council Meetings

I have long been an advocate of webcasting of Full Council meetings and despite the recommendations of the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committee not to proceed with this proposal I was pleased that cabinet decided to continue with this proposal - the first time since the May elections that cabinet decided not to follow the recommendations from a scrutiny committee.

I spoke at some length yesterday afternoon at cabinet on this subject and below is the full text of my comments: