Monday, May 10, 2021

2021 County Council elections - so, what happened in Mid Suffolk? (part 2)

Yesterday, the first part of this review was a tale of Liberal Democrat disaster and Green triumph. Today, at least from a Liberal Democrat perspective, I offer you something a little more edifying...

If ever there was a message that persistence pays off, Stowmarket South provided a tale of triumph for Keith Scarff at the fifth attempt. His first attempt saw him come third in 2005, 540 votes adrift in a respectable third place. By 2009, he'd got within 73 votes in second, and got even closer in 2009, losing by 40 but coming third in a knife edge contest. 2017 saw a small step backwards, losing by 132 but, this time...

  • Keith Scarff (Liberal Democrat) - 1,030 votes (40.3%)
  • Nick Gowrley (Conservative) - 854 votes (33.4%)
  • Emma Bonner-Morgan (Labour) - 380 votes (14.9%)
  • David Card (Independent) - 292 votes (11.4%)
So, round 4 of the contest between Messrs Scarff and Gowrley brought the score between them to 2-2, with the Conservative triumphant in 2015 (Mid Suffolk) and 2017 (Suffolk), and losing both seats in 2019 and 2021. In two elections, Keith has beaten the Conservative Leader of Mid Suffolk, and the Conservative Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Housing and Enterprise.

I did deliver a few leaflets for him, but in all honesty, Keith has done the hard yards pretty much on his own, and all of the credit for his success must go to him.

The second blue on blue contest was Thedwastre North, and I did suggest that this might allow the Green to sneak through. Sure enough, Jane Storey's very respectable result left enough space for Andy Mellen to snatch the seat. It wasn't actually that close...
  • Andy Mellen (Green) - 1,472 votes (40.9%)
  • Harry Richardson (Conservative) - 1,226 votes (34.0%)
  • Jane Storey (Independent) - 702 votes (19.6%)
  • Ursula Ajimal (Labour) - 199 votes (5.5%)
It's another area of genuine Green strength at District Council level, and I suspect that, if Andy digs in, he'll be very hard to shift in four years time.

Penny Otton (presumably no relation to Joe, of Liberal Democrat Voice and Sheffield fame) had her easiest contest yet in terms of winning margin, but it wasn't that easy in Thedwastre South.
  • Penny Otton (Liberal Democrat) - 1,435 votes (46.0%)
  • John Augustine (Conservative) - 1,321 votes (42.3%)
  • Philip Cockell (Labour) - 364 votes (11.7%)
I'm pleased for Penny, and Ros and I did do some leafletting for her in Great Finborough but it comes down to years of hard work, as well as her solid support in Rattlesden, her District Council seat.

There was never any serious prospect of the Conservative Leader losing his seat in Thredling and, sure enough...
  • Matthew Hicks (Conservative) - 2,084 votes (63.2%)
  • Helen Bridgeman (Green) - 602 votes (18.3%)
  • Kathleen Hardy (Labour) - 417 votes (12.7%)
  • Mark Pearson (Liberal Democrat) - 192 votes (5.8%)
And, in truth, it would have been a real upset had Upper Gipping changed hands, given that the Greens dominate the area at District Council level, and Andrew Stringer had no trouble in defeating the Conservative sacrificial lamb.
  • Andrew Stringer (Green) - 2,250 votes (63.3%)
  • Kieren Lathangue-Clayton (Conservative) - 1,075 votes (30.2%)
  • Julie Reynolds (Labour) - 231 votes (6.5%)
So, the final outcome across the ten seats in Mid Suffolk was;
  • Conservatives - 5 seats (down 2)
  • Greens - 3 seats (up 2)
  • Liberal Democrats - 2 seats (no change)
From a Liberal Democrat perspective, it was a bit disappointing but not awful. I still think that Bosmere is entirely winnable, although work needs to start now, and campaigns launched in Ringshall & Battisford and that part of Onehouse that falls in Bosmere. Gipping Valley is, perhaps, less easily regained, given our weakness in Claydon & Barham. That said, the paperless candidate there gained 30% of the votes, so there may be a latent, and accessible Liberal Democrat vote out there if someone wants it badly enough.

The Conservatives face a dilemma. Whilst Hartismere and Thredling seem pretty safe, winning back Stowmarket South and Thedwastre North may prove to be challenging. They have very little in the way of a ground war - leaflet deliveries are paid for and their campaigning material is highly generic. On the plus side, the default position is to vote Conservative in Mid Suffolk in the absence of an organised challenger.

The Greens can look forward. They may hope to gradually supplant the Liberal Democrats in their current strongholds, and they can look to Hartismere as a potential next target. They're also now the official opposition on Suffolk County Council, and it'll be interesting to see how they perform at Endeavour House. There are plenty of weaknesses for them to highlight.

And finally, Labour. They ran a candidate in every Division, averaging 12% across the board, but never achieving more than 16.1% anywhere. Their support is broad and shallow, and they didn't appear to be trying anywhere. Frankly, if you're looking for a Progressive Alliance to emerge, Mid Suffolk demonstrates that Labour have no interest in playing nicely. On the other hand, their vote is eminently squeezable - they did better in Conservative held seats - so that does suggest a route forward for Greens and Liberal Democrats.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

2021 County Council elections - so, what happened in Mid Suffolk? (part 1)

I usually review the election results here in Mid Suffolk and this year is no exception. And it's been an interesting set of results too, with Mid Suffolk seeing four of its ten County seats changing hands. Here's what I said in my preview, just so that you can judge it for quality of prediction...

We start with Bosmere, a Liberal Democrat target. The result was;

  • Kay Oakes (Conservative) - 1,357 votes (49.4%)
  • Steve Phillips (Liberal Democrat) - 1,034 votes (37.7%)
  • Suzanne Britton (Labour) - 355 votes (12.9%)
My fear that Liberal Democrat weakness in the hinterland would negate their strength in Needham Market came to pass, although I still believe that this is extremely winnable if sufficient work is put in over the next four years, especially as its hard to believe that the Conservatives will be riding as high in the polls in 2025.

Gipping Valley was, unfortunately, the first of the seats to change hands, with Chris Chambers successfully transplanted from his former seat in St Margaret's and Westgate.
  • Chris Chambers (Conservative) - 1,478 votes (54.3%)
  • Adrienne Marriott (Liberal Democrat) - 806 votes (29.6%)
  • Terence Wilson (Labour) - 438 votes (16.1%)
It's a story of increasing decline across the Division, combined with the retirement of a stalwart and very highly regarded Liberal Democrat councillor. It's not so long that we held three of the four District seats that make up this Division. Now we hold one, whereas the Conservatives hold three. It's a long road back to regain this one.

I did say that Hartismere would be a shoe-in for Jessica Fleming, and whilst my only dealing with her was wildly unimpressive - her seemingly total lack of understanding of how contracts worked did not exactly endear her to me - she obviously makes a better impression up there...
  • Jessica Fleming (Conservative) - 1,900 votes (57.5%)
  • Stuart Masters (Green) - 649 votes (19.6%)
  • Eddie Dougall (Labour) - 532 votes (16.1%)
  • David Appleton (Liberal Democrat) - 224 votes (6.8%)
Is this the next Green target - they hold Gislingham on Mid Suffolk, and had a good result in Palgrave, so with some effort in Rickinghall, who knows?

The Conservatives were publicly quite dismissive about Guy McGregor's prospects in Hoxne and Eye, and someone told me that he had much higher levels of support amongst voters who hadn't met him, but he did surprisingly well against his replacement as Conservative candidate, Peter Gould.
  • Peter Gould (Conservative) - 1,467 votes (45.0%)
  • Guy McGregor (Independent) - 806 votes (24.7%)
  • Tim Glenton (Liberal Democrat) - 623 votes (19.1%)
  • Paul Anderson (Labour) - 363 votes (11.1%)
It was a good run for Tim, but to have a chance in the County seat, there'll need to be more support in Hoxne and Worlingworth (held by the Conservative Leader on the County Council at District level) and Stradbroke and Laxfield, where our previous candidate, of whom I had some hopes, defected to the Greens. On the other hand, it sets him up well for a serious push in Eye in 2023, which he lost by just 49 votes two years ago.

And finally, for today at least, Stowmarket North and Stowupland. I did suggest that higher turnout figures in Stowupland and Creeting St Peter might help Keith Welham, and it looks like I was right. Turnout was up by five percentage points, and that helped push him over the top.
  • Keith Welham (Green) - 1,512 votes (45.6%)
  • Gary Green (Conservative) - 1,373 votes (41.4%)
  • Will Howman (Labour) - 433 votes (13.0%)
In truth, had Keith started campaigning in earnest a bit earlier, I suspect that this wouldn't have been that close - the Conservative campaign was mediocre, and the incumbent absentee for the most part - not one leaflet reached us in four years, he didn't regularly attend the Parish Council meetings and his reports were embarrassing - written for him by the Conservative political assistant and with no Parish-relevant content whatsoever. The fact that participators on Nextdoor outed him as having moved away from the Division probably didn't help.

So, that's five seats reviewed, with one Conservative gain from the Liberal Democrats and one Green gain from the Conservatives. Tomorrow, I'll tell a slightly more cheering story...

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Creeting St Peter: "What do you mean, there are elections tomorrow?"

It would be fair to say that, as election cycles go, it's been pretty quiet in my rural idyll. In terms of the County Council election, without a Liberal Democrat of my own to vote for, my choice comes down to Labour, Conservative or Green.

So, what have they done to attempt to lure me into voting for them?

Labour did put out a leaflet, one which included a pen picture of each of the candidates across the entirety of Mid Suffolk. Given that they don't hold any County divisions in Mid Suffolk (or any District wards, for that matter), they're little more than a means of splitting the anti-Conservative vote and, given that they're less likely to win any particular division than the Liberal Democrats or Greens, there's a sense that putting an X in the Labour box is little more than helping the Conservatives to get back in.

The Conservatives have failed to contact me at all, not a leaflet, a telephone call or a canvasser to be seen. This is a Conservative-held division, needing a near 10% swing for the Greens to take it, and they appear not to be at all bothered to defend it. And yes, I know, Creeting St Peter represents less than 2% of the division, but still...

The Greens have put out three leaflets of increasing sophistication, have found their way into my Facebook timeline, and have a candidate with a proven record in the Parish.

I've not seen a poster or a stakeboard in the village. I'd put a Liberal Democrat diamond up, but we don't have anywhere to put it where anyone would see it, due to the vagaries of our demesne.

Turning to the Police and Crime Commissioner election, I am pretty confident that the only candidate to put a leaflet through doors in the Parish is James Sandbach, conveniently the Liberal Democrat candidate. This could be because I delivered them myself, and it was in fairness a pretty good effort.

The Conservatives might have delivered a leaflet but for the fact that they had to withdraw theirs after it became apparent that it claimed to have increased the number of police officers by more than there actually are in total. Tim Passmore is very sorry - possibly that he got caught.

And so, that made my postal votes very straightforward...

Friday, April 30, 2021

Creeting St Peter - a village can dream?...

I'm still trying to work out how we can hold our Annual Parish Meeting without breaking the law given the problems I outlined a month ago.

And so, I turned to my copy of the Nineteenth Edition of "The Parish Councillor's Guide" by Paul Clayden (what do you mean, you don't have one?) and promptly allowed myself to be distracted. You know how it is, you look up one thing, and then see something quirky and interesting and before you know it...

Well, what I found was a reference to Town Councils. Now, if you want to become a City, you need to get the reigning monarch to grant you city status. You don't need a cathedral, although it does offer a certain historical cachet. And, in truth, no matter how ambitious I might be, bidding for Creeting St Peter to be a city, when the likes of Croydon, Doncaster and Dudley have done so unsuccessfully, might be a step too far.

But to become a town is actually quite easy. According to Section 245(6) of the Local Government Act 1972, all that we have to do is pass a resolution;

The council of a parish which is not grouped with any other parish may resolve that the parish shall have the status of a town and thereupon -

(a) the council of the parish shall bear the name of the council of the town;

(b) the chairman and vice-chairman of the council shall be respectively entitled to the style of town mayor and deputy town mayor;

(c) the parish meeting shall have the style of town meeting.

Well, that all seems rather easy and surprisingly painless and, best of all, nobody can stop us.

That leaves the question of mayoral regalia...

Monday, April 26, 2021

A banana republic without bananas?

One of the things that one should be able to take for granted in this country is that corruption is minimal and broadly disapproved of, that there are rules to ensure a level playing field when bidding for contracts. And, to be honest, we've been fortunate in that regard.

Why is it important? Let me offer up an example of what happens when you have a public procurement system that has a known element of corruption. If you know that, by influencing a key official or politician, you increase your chances of bidding successfully, you might be minded to do just that. You'll raise the price if you can to cover the cost of that influencing, thus the public ultimately pay. And then, your competitors will realise that they have to do the same to compete. The premium needed increases, and you suck money out of the legal economy, filtered out into offshore bank accounts and properties.

It doesn't happen overnight, it happens gradually, as the accepted norms are stretched and warped, until corruption and bribery are rampant. We joke about corruption in places like Nigeria, although it really isn't a laughing matter.

Here, it was traditionally more subtle than that, with "good chaps" shaking hands with other "good chaps" to do quiet deals. What is being alleged is that such a process has become rather less subtle, with friends of senior politicians having preferential access to procurement officials by bypassing the usual channels and, when large sums of money are being spent with the focus on speed rather than accuracy, the chances are that some very lucrative contracts will be offered to those who've positioned themselves at the front of the queue in order to make things happen.

And, if they're able to deliver, that might be excusable in a crisis like a pandemic. However, if they can't, and were never really qualified to be able to do so, whilst other, better suited bidders were excluded or ignored, that offers us a problem.

If it is perceived that friends of Government ministers have been profiting from public procurement contracts that they didn't merit winning, and that there was no credible process in place for determining whom best to award contracts to, then the concept of conflict of interest is in play.

It does surprise me that so many instances of potential conflict of interest have arisen, and that there doesn't appear to be any acknowledgement that perhaps Ministers should have left some clear distance between themselves and the procurement process. But that requires the setting of an example from the top, and the Prime Minister isn't terribly respectful of process, nor of truth. If he sets the tone, he's not likely to set a particularly good one.

It appears that there is an ethical weakness somewhere at or near the centre of British politics, and whilst one is loathe to call for an enquiry into anything one doesn't like, any enquiry that does take place into the Government's handling of the pandemic will need to take a cold, hard look at whether or not the VIP channel helped or hurt Britain's response to this crisis, and just how much money might have been wasted because of it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A memory of Jonathan Fryer...

It is somewhat difficult to think of Jonathan as being dead, and his sudden demise on Friday produced an outpouring of sorrow, second only to that which took place when he announced that he was terminally ill only a few weeks earlier.

Many will remember him for his writing, others for his commitment to internationalism, yet others for his campaigning and leadership, and all with good cause. I'll remember him partly for his insatiable curiosity about the world and partly for his sense of humour.

And so, perhaps to offer an unexpected insight into someone I was lucky enough to know, here's a piece that he wrote nearly a decade ago. There may be goatherds involved...

Monday, April 19, 2021

A European Super League - have they learned from the American experience?

I wrote a piece for Liberal Democrat Voice which went live this morning, in which I suggested that there wasn't an awful lot that Government could do if a collection of the "richest" clubs across Europe decided to form their own league. Naturally, a slew of politicians then suggested that, not only could the Government act, but that it would. I'm yet to be convinced that it's anything but words in the run-up to a bunch of local elections, but we'll see...

One of the suggestions as to why a European Super league has emerged now after years of talk and little actual action is the suggestion that American-owned clubs see this as being no different to the way that the NFL or NBA work, in that those leagues have no promotion or relegation and, in that sense, they're right. The absence of such things has no apparent impact on the success of the sport and, indeed, it does allow teams to plan over a period of years, creating stability and a narrative for a team, even if it isn't doing particularly well at any particular time.

I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan which, at the moment, is a fine thing to be, given their success in the most recent Super Bowl. However, I've followed them since the sport was first televised on Channel 4 in the mid-eighties. Why the Buccaneers? Simple, they wore orange, like my football team, Luton Town. And, to be honest, like most of the teams I've supported, they sucked most of the time. But you keep hoping, right? There is an irony, in that they're owned by the Glazer family, who own Manchester United, but they are widely believed to have been thoughtful and committed owners in Florida, and that perhaps speaks volumes.

And the thing about the NFL is that, at its heart, is the rather socialist notion that a more equal league is actually a good thing. Thus, the player draft, where new talent is selected by teams in the reverse order to which they finished in the previous season (although slots can be traded for advantage or later reward). Baseball has a luxury tax, whereby if a team spends more on player salaries than an agreed limit, it pays 17.5% of the overspend into a fund, part of which is used for player benefits. That amount increases if they breach the limit in consecutive years, and discourages teams from spending much more than their competitors.

Most major US sports have a salary cap too, albeit at levels that many would think absurd, but, combined with luxury taxes, a genuine sense of competition exists. For example, twelve different teams have won the Super Bowl in the past fifteen years, compared to the seven teams that have won the Premier League in its twenty-eight seasons to date. Your team may be awful one year but, in a few years, it might credibly be a winner.

So, the land of the free is, for sports purposes, a bit of a socialist paradigm. I don't see a European Super League going down that route - the cult of personality is too important to allow that, I'd suggest - and thus the pressure to spend more on players will not change. Who wants to support the team that comes bottom, even if it is in a Super League, season after season? More importantly from the perspective of the owners and shareholders, who's going to want to buy the shirts, or pay to watch the games on pay-per-view or satellite TV?

But, if they can make enough money, they probably won't care...