Nearly two years on and a new local election about to happen, I have added an update at the end.
We are still nearly two weeks away from the Local Elections (to be held May 5th) and a lot can change. Now the hustings are out of the way, I feel I can share my thoughts on each of the candidates. While each reader will have different thoughts based on their own set of values and assessment of the individual candidates, it is in my view important for the democratic process that people do come to a view.
I feel that I need to first address the people versus party conundrum that we all need to come to terms with if it is our intention to vote responsibly. While it seems to me that voting for the party is more important in national elections, given we are voting for the government we want to be in power, this may be less the case for local elections, where having the right person to represent residents seems that much more pressing. It has often been the case in the past that the party of the candidate I vote for nationally is different to who I vote for locally. However, the party in this case has taken on more significance than usual, for two reasons. Firstly, right now, who forms the next administration for the town hangs on a knife edge. However independently minded a candidate claims to be, he/she will have a view but if representing a party may be forced to take the party one regardless. Secondly, the unedifying spectacle two nights ago of the Conservatives, despite their claim not to exercise a whip, who to the man/woman, sought to bring down the leader of the Rainbow administration, and did so for reasons more to do with creating mischief than with working to improving the town, has made me decidedly uncomfortable and wary. It has also affected my view toward St. Luke’s Conservative candidate.
When it comes to my views on the individual candidates, which in alphabetical order are: Brian Ayling (Independent), Tomasz Lachowichz (Liberal Democrat), Jason Pilley (The Green Party), Donna Richardson (Labour), David Stansfield (UKIP) and Del Thomas (Conservative), I would probably put them (maybe a bit too brutally) into two camps. The first camp I will call “the no hopers”, who if I were a bookie I would give generous odds on any member of that camp winning because I know they won’t do so, and none of which I will be voting for, for reasons I am about to give. The second camp I will call the “the chancers”, who if I were a bookie I would say that any member of that camp will have a good and near equal chance of winning, with maybe the sitting Independent candidate just shading it, and any of who I could be voting for, for reasons I am about to give. Regarding last nights hustings, while this did not alter my view, it did reinforce it, again for reasons I am about to give. The “no hopers” comprise Tom, David and Jason. The “chancers” comprise Donna, Brian and Del. I will devote a paragraph, addressing each and in that order, before giving conclusions.
Tom I know very little about other than my impression from my brief dealings that he is a gentleman. His presence in the Ward, however, appears to have been almost zero and I know little of his ideas for the Ward. He shows every sign of being a paper candidate (just as in previous years for the Lib Dems) and for that reason, along with my not being a Lib Dem fan, he won’t be getting my vote. Of the six candidates, Tom is the only one not to attend the hustings.
As those who read my blogs know, I have wrestled hard coming to a view as to whether UKIP are the nasty party or really do have good ideas which are just not being adopted by the other parties anywhere as much at they should. While now leaning to a view on the matter, the jury is still out. In fairness to David, and as he pointed out last night, his candidature is not about Europe but rather about wanting to serve the town. Also, I saw in him no signs of xenophobia.His impressive record working in the voluntary sector these past 15 years more than bear witness to this. However, of all the performances at last nights hustings, his was the most lack luster. While he has good ideas for the town and I believe would serve St. Luke’s residents well, his lack of knowledge of or attention to ward issues, evidenced by his election leaflet and response to last night’s questions, means he won’t be getting my vote.
Of all the candidates, Jason reminds me most of myself when I was his age. His love for philosophy, poetry and chess are all things we share. He also came across very well at last nights hustings although I sensed a certain naivety, as I often do with Green supporters. At the same time, he came up with lots of good ideas and had his finger on the pulse when it came to environmental matters and social justice concerns. While not entirely agreeing, I liked his arguments at the hustings for the Fossets farm development not to go ahead and why the proud claim of the Rainbows to have built a few social houses was woefully pitiful. While Greens have come a long way in a short time (they are for example fielding candidates in all 17 wards) and are making an increasing impact on the political landscape for the right reasons, there is much about Green policy I am not in full agreement with and Jason will not be getting my vote.
Donna performed well at last nights hustings (as I knew she would despite her nervousness) and has continued to add to the impression that she would be a very good councilor if given the chance. I have discussed my life long love-hate relationship with the Labour Party in previous blogs and have already indicated that of all the groupings in the Council they are the one I identify with most and hope will lead the next administration. Moreover, she has worked tirelessly these past few months canvassing, listening to resident concerns and doing things about them to make a difference. While possibly less knowledgeable on the big issues than Brian and Del (it is after all the first time she has stood in a local election), she has shown a willingness to learn, as evidenced at the hustings. There are clearly issues, e.g. disability, where she would contribute well. Because of this, Donna may be getting my vote.
Del is an enigma. That is what many say, given that he is one of the most community minded people around and one of the biggest champions of the vulnerable and dispossessed that I know, yet he is standing for the nasty party. While caring is not an adjective I would use to describe most members of David Cameron’s government, it is one I would apply to Del, who happens, among other things, to share my passion to get a better deal for those with mental health issues and the homeless and is already doing lots to make a difference in this town. There is so much going for Del: energy, enthusiasm, integrity, ideas, independence of thought, knowledge of the issues, commitment to the cause, and of all the leaflets I have seen his one has impressed me most, that one has to question why does one need to look any further? yet his Conservative membership does grate! Notwithstanding, Del may be getting my vote.
Me and Brian have not always seen eye to eye, yet as I have argued recently, despite his limitations (compared with Donna and Del say), he has performed creditably these past four years as a councilor. I am often finding out about some of the good stuff he is doing that most people are not aware off and he manages well balancing his role on the council with dealing with individual resident concerns. The latest is helping to arrange a fitting memorial to two local activist friends of mine, who recently died. He has enough, I think, fuel in the tank to continue for another four years, building on what he has already built, and is, as they say, the devil I know. There is a niggle though – there has been a degree of complacency when it comes to canvassing and that it would be healthy for the ward to break the Independent monopoly. Yet Brian may be getting my vote.
I have deliberately kept my cards close to my chest when it comes to declaring my voting intentions, other than saying I would feel fine if any in the chancer camp were to win, because as those who know my record on these matters will realize, when I endorse a candidate it usually turns out to be the kiss of death. I concur with the chair of last nights hustings – St. Lukes is lucky to have some very good candidates standing in the local elections, each of which would serve the ward well if elected. I will be certainly be voting on May 5th and me and my wife will be casting our vote (quite likely differently) at St. Edmunds as we usually do. This time round it will be along with our just turned 18 year old son, on his way to school, who I have told needs to vote because voting matters, and even if we disagree he should do so based on a careful consideration on what it is that is at stake. While people put themselves forward as election candidates for all sorts of reasons, I would like to think that our six have done so for the right reasons, i.e. to serve the residents of St. Lukes, and are therefore to be commended. I wish them all well and look forward to working with whoever it is that does get in.
Update 27/03/18: I have occasionally found when losing a bet, I have ended up with a net gain. On the night of the count, just before counting begun, I bet with Paul VanLooy, another Independent councillor for St. Lukes, regarding the size of the majority of Brian Ayling (who we both agreed would be the likely winner). Paul being naturally more optimistic than I won the bet but kindly added to his winnings and donated it to the homeless charity I am involved with. I thought it would be a close run thing and was sad that Del and Donna, whose time I hope will come, lost out, but was not too disappointed that Brian won, who despite our differences does a lot of work behind the scenes on behalf of the residents. Perversely, having supported Del in leaflet dropping and telling at the polling booths, I voted for Jason and was delighted he had over 100 votes. I was bemused that Del, Donna and David gained a similar number of votes as I felt Del and Donna were markedly better candidates than David and those who voted for him did so in the light of the EU referendum that was soon to follow. As I write, we are six weeks from the 2018 local elections and while not a huge amount of activity candidates are coming out of the wood work and doing their campaigning. I will watch with interest and expect to blog on my thoughts prior to the election. Sadly, I somehow feel there will not be a hustings, reflecting the apathetic times we are living in.