Friday, May 21, 2021

Ros in the Lords: Remote Participation and Hybrid Sittings

Like me, Ros has been working from home since last March, and it's been something of an adjustment for both of us. Technology, and the willingness to use it, has changed how we operate. But there are always those who romanticise the way things were, and insist that nothing must change. The House of Lords has its fair share of those. Ros isn't one of them...

My Lords, that the House was able to continue doing its work almost from the start of the pandemic is nothing short of miraculous and is a real tribute to the commitment of a lot of people, including Members, who found themselves having to get comfortable — or at least able — to operate in a way that they would never have dreamt.

As a member of the sponsor body for restoration and renewal, I am well aware of the parlous state of the building and the possibility of some sort of catastrophic failure. If there is a silver lining from the last year, it is that at least we can feel that the Houses could keep going should the worst happen. As the Constitution Committee reported, there is potentially a link between restoration and renewal and new ways of working. The sponsor body is well aware of that, but I assure noble Lords that it believes that these are matters for both Houses, and it is certainly not for the sponsor body to tell the Houses how they should carry out their business.

But we have been genuinely innovative, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, set that out very well. We need to think carefully before we go straight back to the old ways of working because, first, the pandemic is not over, as the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, set out. The Indian variant shows that we are not out of the woods, so we need to take the time to make sure that we and our staff are kept safe.

It strikes me that many of the downsides which noble Lords have reported today and previously are down to the pandemic and not hybrid working per se. It is about the distancing and all the paraphernalia that comes with that. We need mentally to try to sort some of that out, because it is very difficult from this perspective to judge what hybrid working might look like if we were in a House that was operating more normally.

I hope that, for both those reasons, the House will decide soon to remain hybrid until well into the autumn. That would give time for the whole population to be vaccinated and for us to be assured that there was not to be a further wave. Crucially, it could offer a period where Members could make a genuine choice about whether to come in or to work from home. I think many people will come in; a lot of us miss the place. It would give us a chance to feel what hybrid working would look like in a more normal environment, so we could use it as a transitional period. We could choose certain functions, such as legislation, which would be done in the Chamber only, while others, such as committees, could be done virtually or hybrid.

For people like me, who have always believed in an elected House, the argument for the Lords as it is currently configured is that it is a House of experts: people are drawn from all walks of life and bring their expertise and professional backgrounds. Yet, once Members are appointed, everything about the way we do our business draws us into becoming full-time parliamentarians. For people outside London and the Home Counties, this is a particular issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, set out. Someone coming from Cornwall or Cumbria for a vote on a Monday and who perhaps has a Question or a committee on a Wednesday will end up spending the whole week in London for a relatively short period of active contribution.

In a system that awards peerages for life, we do need to think very hard about how the expertise that brings the Members to the House can be kept up to date, because it is difficult, if you are in Westminster all the time. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made that point really well, that like many noble Lords, he is assiduous in building up these relationships outside. That is what keeps him current, but it is very difficult to do if you are tied up in the Lords. This is not just a matter of hybrid or virtual working; it is about a whole raft of procedures and practices we have established for ourselves that somehow mean you can only be a proper parliamentarian if you are based in Westminster.

The last year has given us a chance to think afresh about that — to have a look at whether or not this is the right way to do things. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was entirely right: every large organisation is now looking at what it does and how it does it to see whether things should be changed. We will get much more respect for taking a step back and looking at that than we will for going straight back to the old ways we have always done things.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Creeting St Peter - let's play the music and Chair...

Three years ago, I was somewhat unexpectedly catapulted into a position of supreme power elected as Chair of our village's Parish Council. I hadn't sought the role - which is becoming something of a recurring theme - but wasn't quick enough to escape when I was the victim of an extremely genteel ambush by my fellow Councillors.

I had been led to understand that the Chair served two years before being replaced  by their Vice Chair, which turned out to be a ruse. But it was alright, and I had quietly enjoyed the responsibility for two years. And then the pandemic struck, and our 2020 Annual Parish Council Meeting was cancelled. It was agreed that I might as well carry on for another year, and I was happy enough to do so - not that I think that the village particularly needs an active Parish Council Chair - but to offer some stability.

Perhaps if I had known that we could expect the pandemic to last for more than a year, or that the business and enterprise zone long threatened on the edge of the Parish would turn up in the middle of it, I might have been less sanguine, but life can be like that sometimes. The past year has thus been a bit more stressful.

But you can't go on forever, in any event. I'm not one of those people who believes in holding positions for year after year, and Parish Councils need to evolve. That said, whilst I'd be perfectly happy to hand over the invisible chains of office to one of my fellow councillors, it had become clear that they, in turn, were quietly keen for me to stay on.

And so, on Monday night, at our Annual Parish Council Meeting, when nominations were sought for a Chair for 2021-22, I was duly nominated for a fourth year. I accepted, but gave notice to Council that it would be my last year - they now have a year to decide which of them wants to take the Chair going forward. I've even offered to give up the Chair for a meeting so that anyone who wants to "try it for size" can do so.

I do think that any of them could do the job. Not, perhaps, in the same way that I do it, but that need hardly be a bad thing. I'm keen on process and form, but with a Council made up of reasonable people - as ours is - different styles and approaches could work just as well, possibly better. And, in any event, I'm planning to stay on as a councillor, so the skills that I think that I offer are still available.

It has been an honour and a privilege to chair Creeting St Peter Parish Council, and I've learned a bit about myself in the process. But, in a year or so, it'll be time to hand the baton on to someone else and let them lead the band...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Ros in the Lords - Queen's Speech debate (day 3)

I particularly pick up on this speech because, as a bureaucrat, I understand that having rules that work, that can be applied and are transparent as to their intent, is important. This is what Ros said yesterday...

The Bills contained in this programme will no doubt receive the thorough and robust scrutiny of this House, but as we pass them we will no doubt be delegating dozens of new powers to government and government Ministers, because the volume of secondary legislation has grown enormously in recent decades. The process of EU exit and Covid-related emergency law has added to that.

Many reports and debates in recent times have drawn attention to the shortcomings of both Houses when it comes to parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation, and that includes the excellent report published today by our Constitution Committee. Too often, the very good work carried out by the staff and the members of the Secondary Legislation Committee and the Joint Committee for Statutory Instruments passes by the House because of procedures that we have ourselves established and agreed. This House has a duty to carry out effective scrutiny, as well a responsibility to ensure that the legitimate business of government can be carried out.

But I am not alone in feeling that, increasingly, the Government are not carrying out their side of the bargain. We have to give this some thought. The Government are increasingly using secondary legislation for significant policy changes that ought to be in primary legislation, and would have been in past years. In its 52nd report, the Secondary Legislation Committee cited changes to the Town and Country Planning Act that were fundamental to our planning system and ought to have been brought forward in a Bill.

In recent years, we have also seen a growth in statutory guidance, which receives virtually no parliamentary scrutiny at all. Again, the SLSC cited the recent grass and heather burning regulations, which were noted because the instrument was passed even though all the detail was in statutory guidance which had not even been published at that point. So the Government are getting three bites of the cherry: the Act itself, the secondary legislation and then the statutory guidance. In effect, this allows for constant post hoc changes to the law, with no parliamentary scrutiny.

These trends have accelerated rapidly during the pandemic. We have taken a pragmatic view that the public health emergency justifies some sacrifice of parliamentary scrutiny, but I think the Government have now taken this too far. The Constitution Committee report highlights that 424 Covid-related SIs have been laid. These include fines of up to £10,000, lockdowns, business closures and quarantines. Whatever position you take on those issues, surely they deserve timely and effective scrutiny — yet 397 of those SIs were either made affirmative or made negative. In other words, they take effect before any scrutiny has taken place, and Parliament can only act retrospectively. The SLSC reported that two came into force before they had even been laid. The Government argue that time pressures in the pandemic make this necessary but, in the case of face coverings, the policy had been trailed for weeks, so it is very hard to see why the regulations in draft could not have been published.

The scheduling of SI debates in both Houses means that they are quite often completely superseded by the time we ever get to debate them. The pressure of work in departments is leading to errors and non-compliance with agreed processes. Preliminary figures from the JCSI show that it reported 194 instruments on 248 separate grounds, including defective drafting and doubtful vires.

We see increasingly important policy announcements being made at press conferences; they get reported in the media and become firmly planted in the public consciousness. When the regulations appear, they are often far less draconian than the announcement but, as a result, there is widespread confusion about what the Government see as desirable and what they see as mandatory. It is not just the public but public authorities themselves - the enforcement authorities - that are struggling with this, as reported by the Human Rights Committee. The Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services said that the difficulty for police officers was made much worse by widespread confusion about the status of government announcements and the law. A Crown Prosecution Service review found that 27% of cases had been incorrectly charged, and no doubt many people have paid penalties rather than go to court. This is grossly unjust. It is a drain on our criminal justice system and very unhelpful to maintaining trust in the police force.

There are times when the state has to control what individuals do, but surely it must be through properly enacted legislation that is thoroughly scrutinised and fairly enforced.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A country gentleman returns to Federal International Relations Committee...

And so, this evening saw my first FIRC meeting since my restoration, and interesting it was too. So, what happened, and what did I do?

Joining a committee part way through its term can often be challenging - every committee has a dynamic all its own, and if you’ve been involved in a previous iteration, there is a danger that you respond as though nothing has changed and create something of a culture clash. Frustrating for you, and for the committee you must hope to influence. So, in truth, I tended to stay out of things whilst I get a sense of how I might fit in and what I might contribute.

There have been some changes whilst I’ve been away, with sub-committees set up to look at the European Union and Brexit, as well as China, which seem to be a positive step, and a fundraising group, which I’m going to avoid, given my professional role.

The Committee is pretty high-powered too, with a clutch of Peers (of which I approve) and former MEPs amongst its number. I may be slightly out of my league here, but we’ll see how that goes.

It was a rather longer meeting than I am used to, and quite tiring as a result, but with a new Chair, Phil Bennion, and two significant deaths (Jonathan Fryer, the Chair of the Committee until last month, and Hans van Baalen, the President of the ALDE Party) to dwell upon, it should have been predicted. I must note at this point that Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett said some very thoughtful things about Jonathan in his tribute, and I was touched by his warmth and emotion.

In response to the discussion on China, there was some thought given to whether what is being done to the Uyghurs. There is a degree of unease about describing it as genocide, but I noted that the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention pointed to Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs meeting the definition. It may be na├»ve to suggest that it would be easy to use this as a stick to “beat” the Chinese with, and one must be aware of the “realpolitik” of the situation, but I do think that if you give anyone a free pass on such behaviour, you shouldn’t be surprised if others see it as a green light to treat their minorities in a similar fashion. It will be interesting to see what policy stances emerge from the sub-committee though.

I’m pleased to see that Isabelle, the Party’s International Officer, has survived in post, given HQ’s low prioritisation of the post in the past. She’s not been in the office for a while, but she brings a sense of Nordic calm to her work, and it’s nice to be able to work with her again.

My successor but one as the Committee’s Secretariat (the role isn’t necessarily that of just a Secretary) announced her resignation in advance of our meeting, and a replacement was sought. No, it won’t be me, although I did think about it. I’ve done the job once, and whilst I could probably do it again, I don’t want to. The danger in doing the job is twofold - that you don’t really get to contribute to the international work of the Party except by freeing up others to do it, and that, if you do it the way I think it should be done, you end up frustrated and irritable - there is very little interest in process, rules or constitutions, regardless of their importance. Life is too short for that. That said, the Committee really needs someone, and if you think that you might be that someone, do get in touch.

I will say this though, I thought that Denali Ranasinghe did an excellent job in the role, and she will be missed. She is polite, helpful and committed, and other organisations will benefit from her evident skills over many years to come.

There followed a series of reports from various groups, all of which were quite promising in terms of things that are being done to improve Party knowledge on international affairs, and indicate that the internationalist wing of the Party is a vibrant place.

The meeting concluded with discussions on the crisis in Israel and Palestine, and on India. I warned the Committee that the BJP are intent on establishing control over things such as aid from overseas for political advantage. We do need to be careful about how we relate to the current Indian Government - India would make a valuable partner in our relations with China and, as a democracy, it offers potential leadership across South Asia and beyond.

So, all in all, an interesting and stimulating meeting. I’ll try to contribute where I can going forward, although I’m not planning to join any of the sub-committees yet - I’d rather analyse their work from the outside for the time being, especially as I don’t consider myself an expert in those fields.

We meet again on 19 July, although there’s an event in between...

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

And so, in a not entirely welcome turn of events...

Seventeen months ago, in a set of internal party elections whose outcome was not entirely unexpected, I lost my place on the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) and failed to be elected back onto the ALDE Party Council delegation, the latter despite a second bite of the cherry granted to me by the party's (relative) success in the December 2019 General Election.

I wasn't that far from success in either contest but, if you haven't won, you've lost. And, in fairness, looking at who had won, and indeed at some of those who had lost, I couldn't in all fairness have much complaint. I don't offer the electorate promises on policy that aren't actually salient - ALDE Party Council seldom discusses policy and is more like a rather large Finance and Administration Committee - and my reputation is as a bureaucrat rather than an internationalist (that'll teach me to care about structure and process, won't it?). And, the candidates who beat me could claim experience and knowledge that, in truth, I can't match.

Accordingly, I had reconciled myself to the outcome and was hardly pining for a return - life is too short, and there's a whole world out there for someone with a sense of intellectual curiosity and a desire to understand as far as possible.

A vacancy had arisen, following the resignation of one of the directly elected FIRC members, both from the committee and the Party, but I wasn't the runner-up, and you seldom see that many resignations, even in a three-year term. And so, Jonathan Fryer's untimely, and extremely unfortunate, demise created an unexpected vacancy on both FIRC and the ALDE Party Council delegation.

Having been consulted on how the vacancies should be filled, for reasons I don't entirely comprehend, I pointed the Committee to Jack Coulson, the Party's very capable Company Secretary, who handles such things in accordance with the Party's constitution, and left matters to take their course.

Internal by-elections are often quite hard to call, especially when you're effectively eliminating someone with a considerable number of first preferences. The way they split isn't easily predictable, especially if, in the original count, their preferences weren't transferred as part of the process. Looking at the original result, there were a number of candidates potentially in the frame, so I didn't get my hopes up. And, as already noted, I wasn't desperate to return.

The result was a bit of a surprise, in that I was now successful in both elections. There was, however, something unexpected, in that the Constitution says that, in the event of a recount, no previously elected candidate should lose their place, and, in the ALDE Party Council recount, exactly that had happened. And so, I appealed, knowing that, if my appeal was successful, I would lose my newly gained place.

I should be somewhat embarrassed by the fact that my appeal was unsuccessful - * long time bureaucrat in interpretation fail * - but sometimes you don't have all of the facts and it turned out that the interpretation of the constitutional validity of the initial declaration of the result of the 2019 election had not been widely known.

And so, I am back, at least until 31 December next year. I'm not planning to get comfortable, and I don't know if I'll even run for re-election - we'll see how it goes. But you can expect some coverage here about what I'm doing on the Committee and elsewhere, for there's little point in my representing those people who kindly voted for me, and indeed, those who didn't - I didn't take it personally, I promise - otherwise.

So, bureaucrat, parish councillor and international activist. It's an eclectic collection of roles, but each offers me the opportunity to contribute to making things better, even if only slightly. And, at the end of the day, if you're making things better, you are making a contribution towards the wider community, and isn't that something we should all aspire to?...

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

2021 County Council elections - looking beyond Mid Suffolk...

So, time to take a wider view of events in Suffolk...

Beyond the boundaries of Mid Suffolk, we entered the elections holding County Divisions in Woodbridge, St Margaret's and Westgate (Ipswich) and Peninsula (think the triangle of land between the Stour and Orwell estuaries).

We'd lost Peninsula before we started, as the sitting Liberal Democrat and former Group Leader, David Wood, had retired, and the seat wasn't even defended - it went to the Greens.

Woodbridge stayed resolutely Liberal Democrat, with Caroline Page scoring 63.5% in a two-horse race against the Conservatives, leaving St Margaret's and Westgate as a potential gain - we held both seats for the first eight years of its existence (2005-2013) and Inga Lockington has managed to fend off both Labour and Conservative opposition to hold one of them ever since - the second seat went Labour in 2013 and Conservative in 2017. Sadly, whilst Inga's personal vote held up nicely, the new Conservative candidate retained her seat and Oliver Holmes came fourth, behind one of the Labour candidates.

Elsewhere, there were respectable second places in Belstead Brook, Blything, Kessingland and Southwold and Stour Valley, but otherwise there wasn't an awful lot to get excited about. The Liberal Democrats are now the fourth party of Suffolk politics at County level, with Suffolk County Council now constituted as follows;

  • Conservatives - 55 seats (plus 5)
  • Greens - 9 seats (plus 6)
  • Labour - 5 seats (minus 6)
  • Liberal Democrats - 4 seats (minus 1)
  • West Suffolk Independents - 1 seat (no change)
  • Independent - 1 seat (minus 4)
The votes received were as follows;
  • Conservatives - 124,969 votes (48.0%)
  • Labour - 56,223 votes (21.6%)
  • Greens - 39,283 votes (15.1%)
  • Liberal Democrats - 25,885 votes (9.9%)
  • Independents - 11,723 votes (4.5%)
  • West Suffolk Independents - 1,959 votes (0.8%)
  • Communist Party of Britain - 293 votes (0.1%)
  • Burning Pink Party - 168 votes (0.1%)
The Conservatives did what you might expect, given that the polls favoured them, in increasing their grip on the County. But, whilst they achieved a net gain of five, two of those were merely regaining seats where the sitting Conservative councillor had been deselected and "gone rogue". They also took five seats from Labour, penetrating Suffolk's equivalent of the "Red Wall". However, they lost four seats to the Greens (Beccles, Halesworth, Stowupland North & Stowupland and Thedwastre North) and swapped seats with the Liberal Democrats (Gipping Valley for Stowmarket South). They did at least remove the last trace of UKIP from the County Council.

It was a pretty disastrous night for Labour - reduced to five seats in Ipswich. It's not their worst performance - they won just four in 2009 - but it's pretty close. Once upon a time, they held seats in Lowestoft, Haverhill, Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury, all now an increasingly distant memory. In the rural Divisions, they are all but irrelevant, and it's hard to envisage a repeat of 1993, when the Conservatives were caught in a vice between Labour in the towns and the Liberal Democrats in the villages.

It's probably fair to say that the big winners were the Greens, trebling their number of the County Council from three to nine, and now the official Opposition, should they choose to end the partnership with the Liberal Democrats and Independents that existed before these elections. They have a few promising second places which might drive their strategy over the next four years, but they, like the Liberal Democrats and Labour grow weaker as you travel westwards across the county. Where the opportunities to really challenge the Conservatives come from is not easily spotted... yet.

The obvious route for the combined opposition is a "progressive alliance", but, as is usually the case, it is impossible to envisage Suffolk Labour taking such an approach - they still don't play nice, even in their current state. It probably wouldn't mean too much risk from their perspective, they're not competitive in much of the county, yet they run candidates who achieve little other than to make the Conservatives harder to beat, especially now that there is no other right-wing competition to chew away at their support.

Next year is a year off for most of Suffolk, with only Ipswich due to hold elections (it's a "thirds" council, before the Districts are all up in 2023. Will the Conservatives retain their current popularity, or will there start to be a gentle whittling away of their support post-Brexit and post-Covid? Will meaningful opposition emerge in the villages? That remains to be seen...

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 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 in 2019, 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...