Last Meeting As Chairman

Last Meeting As Chairman

I have been the Chairman of Wisbech & District Conservatives for five years and before that I served as Vice Chairman for three years.

During that time I have steered our local branch through good times and bad, I have helped organise and deliver dozens of successful events, I have helped raise a lot of money.

The branch has allowed Conservative Councillors to co-ordinate and collaborate for the benefit of local people.  It has introduced many new members and many new activists, plenty of whom have gone on to become Councillors or to serve the community in other important ways.

I have helped in every single election and by-election and in the last couple of years I have acted as Campaign Manager for several, helping to win three by-elections and deliver a pretty good recent local election result.

I’d like to think that I have helped build a strong team and to make the branch friendly, inclusive and welcoming.  I am proud of the branch’s achievements, both for the local Conservative party, the wider N.E.C.C.A. organisation and for the town and community in which we all live.

Tonight, at the monthly Branch meeting, I will be stepping down as Chairman of the branch.  I have given it nearly a decade and I have seen us safely and successfully through the most important elections in a decade – but I am a strong believer in allowing new faces and new ideas to flourish and shine.  There are many new local Conservatives now and it would be wrong for the same people, the same names, the same faces to remain in the senior positions forever and ever.  It is counter-productive and stifles enthusiasm, eventually leading to stagnation.  I think now is the right time to give somebody else a chance to show what they can do.

I’m not going anywhere.  I will still be right here, helping my local friends and colleagues in every way I can, using what small talent I have in any way that will benefit local Conservatism and the wider community we all serve.  I will still be actively involved in the North East Cambs Conservative Association (I am presently Deputy Chair Political) and I will continue to work as hard as I can as a Town and District Councillor.

But we have many passionate Conservatives in Wisbech and it is time to step aside and let some of them steer the ship.  I think it will be quite exciting, for those who care about such things.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what the next chapter brings.

I’d like to thank my dedicated team both old and new.  I have been privileged to work with some very decent, very honourable and very genuine folks.  It has been a wonderful few years and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Except the County Council results two years ago :)  And maybe not even that.  These things happen for a reason, I believe.  Fanciful idiot that I am. :)

Paid Parking Debate

Paid Parking Debate

The Paid Parking Debate came to Fenland District Council’s Annual Meeting yesterday in colourful fashion when Cllr Gavin Booth (Liberal Democrat) proposed a motion to rule it out for four years.

I would have liked to vote for Gavin Booth’s motion and had expected to do so.  Although there was a whip applied – as I’ve explained many times a whip is not what people think it is.  I had leeway to vote against the group if I needed to.

However, Cllr. Chris Boden proposed an amendment to the motion.  His amendment spoke of his determination to oppose Paid Parking also and called for a Comprehensive Spending Review to take place which he hoped would provide the evidence to get past the idea permanently.  The amendment also confirmed that no sale of parking assets or attempts to introduce paid parking would happen until the Comprehensive Spending Review was complete.

Gavin Booth felt this amendment was illegal because it essentially negated the original motion, but Legal Officers confirmed their opinion that this was incorrect and that the amendment was in order.  I think that was an interesting decision, but they are the experts.

Some people have suggested this amendment was a bit of a fudge and I think that is a fair criticism.  It did not rule out Paid Parking, and instead appeared to “kick it into the long grass.”  Nevertheless I chose to vote for the motion for two reasons.  The first was that anything which delays any chance of this crazy policy being proposed is good by me.  The second is that I am confident that those of us who oppose Paid Parking will have a wealth of information from the Comprehensive Spending Review to demonstrate the false claim that “there is no choice” and that if the Powers That Be think we will now slink away and forget about it they are sorely mistaken.

The thing is – the new motion proposed gathering information and confirmed no Paid Parking until after this process had taken place, after which there would be a proper debate.  How can any sensible person vote against that?  It’s entirely reasonable.  I would certainly have preferred us to just rule it out now, but that wasn’t going to make me vote against a Spending Review because that would be a foolish position to take.

Instead, several of my colleagues and I used the debate to clearly state that we would never, ever support Paid Parking.  Councillor Chris Boden, Councillor Jan French, Councillor Garry Tibbs, Councillor Samantha Hoy and I all gave very clear speeches making it very clear that regardless of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we did not and would not support it.  This was my speech to Full Council:

I find myself in a difficult position.  Of course I will not vote against a Comprehensive Spending Review.  Information, fairly gathered and presented, is a good thing.  Moreso if it comes with a guarantee of no Paid Parking in the meantime.

But be under no illusion about this.  The public appreciate Councillors to speak plainly, so this is plain as I can be.  What other Councillors do for their towns and wards is down to their own views and conscience.But regardless of what apocalyptic story is laid before us at the end of the review, I will never vote for a policy which I believe will kill my town.  I will never vote for Paid Parking in Wisbech.

Hopefully that message was clear?

With the online petition set up by Martin Curtis still growing strongly and the Cross-Party Facebook Group also expanding rapidly it is clear that this is an issue which unites people; parties, individuals, businesses.  It is an issue which sees UKIP and Labour nodding in the same way, which finds agreement from Eastern European and British traders and which is supported by the old and the young, drivers, pedestrians, retailers and shoppers.  When the issue rises again in a few months time – and I have no doubt that it will – anybody who tries to push it through will have the fight of their lives on their hands.   It is a fight I am confident we will win, because Paid Parking doesn’t stack up socially, economically or politically and I will campaign relentlessly to make that case in a clear, professional and positive way.

Councillor Allowances

Councillor Allowances

I’ve noticed some opposition types rumbling about Councillor Allowances.

I suspect this might be one of those issues where people spin opportunistically and so I just wanted to make two points as clearly as possible.

(1)  We cannot refuse to look at allowances.  It is law that we must look at them periodically.  What we do not have to do is take a rise if one is recommended by the Independent people who are tasked with it.  So if the opposition people try and spin that local Conservatives are doing it to get more money, it will be deliberate mischief making, not the truth.

(2)  I have never voted for a rise in Councillor Allowances in the years I have been in local politics.  Not because I don’t think Councillors are entitled to be paid, but because I think it is wrong to take a rise while telling everybody how “tough” things are and how things need to be cut.  So if the issue does arise, I will not support a rise, I will not vote for a rise and if a rise is ever agreed I will not take the rise.  Exactly the same as last time this happened.  I am nothing if not consistent. :)

I should stress that this is NOT on the cards at the moment and I hope it stays that way.  This is just a blog post about a “what if” scenario.

Blog Changes

Blog Changes

I’m going to be changing the focus of my blog a little.  I intend to blog about three things; personal views, Ward issues, Fenland District Council Policy.  Each type of post with have it’s own header so people who aren’t interested in one of the fields can quickly see what it is and avoid if if they want to.

Personal views: These will be my “soap box” stuff about national issues, or just waffling about something which is nothing to do with politics at all.  I don’t intend to do very much of this, though.

Ward Issues: Assisting my role as a Ward Councillor this will be stuff pertaining to Medworth or Wisbech which I encounter in my role as a Town & District Councillor.

FDC Policy: I will be exploring the small print and detail of Fenland District Council policy in order to help people be better informed and to shine a light into some of the darker policy corners, in a constructive way.

I think this means that for the time being the more “chatty” style I have favoured for quite some time now will take a back seat.  My blog may be a bit drier than before, but it’s nice to shake things up every once in a while, I reckon.

Robbery, Foiled.

Robbery, Foiled.

On Saturday night I was emerging from the top of Post Office Lane at ten to one in the morning when I heard an almighty crashing and smashing from the road into the Market Place.  I listened for a moment and it continued, including the sound of glass smashing.

I walked up the high street towards the noise and saw a man emerging from the doorway – or rather through the doorway – carrying what appeared to be two till boxes in his arms.

He started up the road towards the Market and I followed.  As I came parallel to the QS doorway I saw it was a wreck and at that point I gave chase, shouting something at the robber.

The criminal looked back at me and then turned to sprint away, making a mistake as he did so.  In his sudden dash, he was still partially staring back at me and he ran directly into a lamppost/pole thingy.  It was a nasty collision which sent him tumbling to the ground, dropping the tills.  I ran towards him, in the hope of apprehending him, but he jumped to his feet and sprinted away (leaving the tills behind.)

He dashed directly across the Market Place, cutting diagonally to the alleyway by Hughes.  I am ashamed to admit that I am too old and unfit to catch up with him, I would guess he was in his early Twenties by his build and the way he moved.  Instead I went back to secure the fallen tills – at least he had not gotten away with his loot.

The Police arrived (by chance, actually, not by design) within a few minutes.  I was in the process of explaining to some people who had entered the Market that I needed them to call the Police (I didn’t have my mobile phone with me) when they materialised by sheer luck anyway.

I spent twenty minutes with them as they secured the scene and bagged the evidence.  With some luck the CCTV in the Market Place will have caught a better view of the crook than I got.  I wish I’d arrived a little earlier to save the damage to the shop’s door, but at least the scumbag didn’t get away with anything of value.

It is not every day that I get to chase a robber through the night while dressed in pajamas, so it was invigorating and interesting in equal measures.  (Why I was in pajamas is another story entirely.)

A friend of mine on Facebook commented that my life sounds like a page from the Beano.  :)  Yes, sometimes it does, at that. :)

Surgery Dates

Surgery Dates

Hello.  As promised, here are the list of my Councillor Surgery dates, so that residents of Medworth Ward in Wisbech can come see me, report problems, suggest ideas or just have a natter.  Refreshments will be provided.  All welcome.

Location: The Angel, Alexandra Road.  In the lower room (suitable for families.)

30th May 3PM – 5PM
27th June 3PM – 5PM
25th July 3PM – 5PM
19th September 3PM – 5PM
24th October 3PM – 5PM
28th November 3PM – 5PM
19th December 3PM – 5PM

My newsletters will resume with the first one hopefully out before the end of this month.

Mayor Making 2015

Mayor Making 2015

I really enjoyed the Mayor Making ceremony in Wisbech today.  We had visitors from Arles (France) who were lovely guests and I got to see my friend David Hodgson become Mayor and my friend Garry Tibbs become Deputy Mayor.  Two nicer gentlemen you could not hope to find and they will complement one another perfectly.   I have no doubt that they will serve and represent our town wonderfully during the following year.

*Post edited for spelling correction as suggested by John Elworthy.

Times Like These

Times Like These

Although I cannot comment about the content of private Conservative group meetings, as it is against the rules, I can comment on things which are in the public domain.

Some people will have seen that I made an (unsuccessful) bid to be leader of Fenland District Council today.  Some opposition types have been quick to call me names and suggest motives (I thought we agreed a truce, Dave?)  Naturally everybody will believe what they want to believe.  But this is the actual truth:

The current leader offered me a cabinet post and I turned it down.  The reason I turned it down was not to make a bid for leader: I had no such ambitions at this time and was quite happy to support the current leader just a few days ago.  I could have taken the post and sat on my hands, but I did not get into politics to be a “yes man” and support things that I know damn well my constituents would never want me to support.

I turned down the Cabinet Post and made the bid for leader because I did not like the sound of the ideas that were floating around.  I was afraid that anything else would simply result in these damaging, counter-productive and ill-considered ideas being rammed through.  It was not me that leaked to the press – I have never leaked anything to the press and never intend to – it was a direct interview with the leader that revealed the items which I simply cannot support.  There are several of them, but primary amongst them, numero uno, the big cheese is PAID PARKING.

It is my honest opinion that doing away with our free car parks and introducing paid parking in Wisbech will be the kiss of death for our brave little town.  Our small shops and traders have stood firm against every storm, leapt every hurdle, battled valiantly past every obstacle and – despite everything, in the face of everything, have not only survived but in many cases thrived.  Our English traders, our Eastern European traders, our market traders, our charity shops, this is something which unites us all.  An issue which brings us together, no matter where we were born or what the nature of our trading interests are.

There are many reasons why our Town Centre continues to succeed despite endless predictions of its demise, but up at the top is the hugely important and much valued free car parks which serve our town so well.  Visitors always comment on how refreshing it is to be able to park and shop for free.  Traders and workers and shoppers and pedestrians and brides-to-be and parents bringing their kids in for an ice cream and to chase the pigeons.  They all value our wonderful free parking.

“Everything must be considered,” we will be told.  “There is no choice.”  Of course there is a choice.  There is always a choice.  It may not be easy or palatable.  It may require some hard work and imagination.  But there is always a choice – and people who tell you there is not are just not telling you the truth.

My view is simple.  I am just a backbench Councillor who represents the people in an area of Wisbech.  Each Councillor who represents some other place must make their own decision, based on what they feel their electorate would expect.  For me it is clear.  My Ward, Medworth, includes BOTH of the major free car parks in Wisbech and the entirety of the Horsefair, Market Place, Hill Street, Market Street and Norfolk Street.  This issue affects everybody, but it most directly affects the businesses and people in my ward.  I will not support or vote for a measure that I believe will kill my town.  There will be no spin, no political shenanigans, no clever word play.  I simply will not support it.

As always with such things I will be accused of “sour grapes.”  This is not sour grapes.  That would be putting the cart before the horse.  This is the reason I felt I needed to stand for leader.  Had I not thought the risk to our town too great, I would not have done so.  I fully expect to pay a high price for standing firm on this issue, but I am going to do it anyway.  I guess, at times like this, you find out who your friends are.  It will be what it will be.

Anyway, I’d just like to close by saying to those people who voted for me today that I am sorry.  I tried my best, but my best wasn’t good enough.  It was a fair contest and I lost it.  Sorry.