Week 2: Sunday Night Sideways
An irreverent look at local politics in the run up to the local elections in May.
The first of the manifestos has emerged into the wild. The Wrekin Conservatives, (not the Telford ones) have produced a 10 point plan to improve your town. Is it different enough to get them elected? Points of interest include the first mention on election materials about Child Sexual Exploitation, a dig at Lib Dems supporting some planning applications, and school places.
-Update on Photogate
You may have seen in last weeks SNS, the photo of Independent Cllr Peter Scotts surprise appearance in the Wrekin Labour leaflet. This was not only a surprise to Peter, but also to the photographer who holds the copyright for the photo. An apology from ex-Wrekin MP and Chair of Wrekin Labour, Peter Bradley, and a commitment not to use the photo again, and the matter is put to bed. A timely warning for all parties & candidates to make sure you know where your photos are coming from and that you have permission to use them.
-What’s in Raj’s pocket?
The busiest Mayor the Borough has ever seen, Cllr Raj Mehta, is seeking re-election to the seat he won from from the Tories in 2016 in a by-election. And he’s trying hard. A Labour branded letter landed on the doorsteps of the good people of Lightmoor & Lawley proclaiming the £500k of improvements announced last week.
We’re loving the photos from his campaign, but a special prize goes to anyone who can figure out what’s in his joggers pocket?
10 Points for the first correct answer in the comments from anyone other than Raj!
What about the older estates?
You all asked? You also asked ‘munney shud go to ane’ and ‘don’t spend munney on another bridge’ but we’ll gloss over that. A day later, another package was announced to inject a million pounds into some of the older estates.
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-Straight, male, pale & stale. How well does the council reflect our population?
Actually, it’s not too bad. The council does a good job to reflect the population where we live. I’m unaware of any selective short listing going on, so all our Councillors are there on merit. We have had two BAME Mayors, a gay Mayor, female Mayors. This is a very good thing. But. Stale?
Telford is a young town, and this is probably the weak point. Where are all the young Councillors?
I caught up with one who is trying to win a seat on Brookside. Already a Parish Councillor, Cllr Shana Robert’s recently joined the Lib Dems.
You’ve been a Parish Councillor for a while, what got you started in political life?
“I am originally from Malinslee. I came to Brookside because of love *awwww* and from day one I complained about everything (all things Brookside related any way!)
Please understand that I had a full time job so this wasn’t about abored busy body who had decided to graduate from simple curtain twitching and being a keyboard warrior.
I applied to be on the parish council because I was beyond fed up with fly tipping and dog shit.
I also applied to be on the parish council because my flat got robbed by a bunch of druggies and I had the wonderful experience of walking my dog the next morning and finding boxes and bits from the things they had stolen in the nearby field and bins. It was heart breaking. I didn’t report it. Nothing was going to happen if I did. This was part of living on the estate wasn’t it? My only option would be to move. Then I saw the vacancy ad…..
I didn’t expect to get voted on to the council. I didn’t expect to become chair of Brookside Big Local. I didn’t expect to be on this path at all. I just wanted to live somewhere safe and nice.
I am very lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who have been extremely supportive, and to work for a company that allows me a have a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to carrying out these additional roles. ”
Big local saw around £1m invested in Brookside. Well spent?
“Brookside Big Local is amazing. The people are amazing. What we have managed to achieve as a partnership over the last year makes us all incredibly proud. Residents deciding on which projects we want to fund based on how they benefit the people of Brookside. Through Big Local we have supported a variety of great initiatives such as youth programmes, the community fridge, family summer activities, support groups, IT workshops, the outdoor gym, litter picks etc. Big Local’s new plan will focus on tackling fly tipping across a range of different programmes, including educational leaflets to clarify recycling practices for those who are new to area, or whose first language is not English, to making bulk collections cheaper and easier for residents to access.
The important thing to remember is that Big Local is not the council. Big Local is run by residents for residents and has no political affiliations. In this group we are able to facilitate change a lot quicker than the council would be able to and focus on issues that are important to the people who live here specifically – rather than the wider parish.
The biggest drawback is not being able to get enough people involved to help us spend the money! Oh and that we get confused for the council on many occasions!
My involvement in Big Local has been the most rewarding experience I have had since beginning this journey. It is a pleasure to work with such a diverse group of like minded people who really just want to make things better for themselves and their families. It has shown me the best in people.
The money is for a ten year period only and we have only four years left. We now have to focus on the legacy we want to leave behind for future generations and how we can keep the group going beyond this initial funding period.”
You were not aligned to party in the Parish, what was it that attracted you to standing for a Party and the Lib Dems in particular?
“I like to tell people that I didn’t join the Lib Dem’s – they joined me!
Well this is a long and convoluted tale of self discovery and exploration. The short version is that I needed to find somewhere that I belonged…
I have never been political so for me it was about meeting people who were already involved in local parties and observing how they worked together as well as their values and goals collectively.
It was about me feeling like I was part of something and that I had the support of genuine and good people who didn’t see me as a just a pair of boobs to fill a quota. I had many conversations with people from all parties over the months that followed, and I am honoured to have formed some really valuable relationships with people from across the entire political spectrum.
The people in the local Lib Dem party made me feel at home right away – and I won a tin of spam in my first raffle! They are truly some of the most genuine and sincere people I have met whose primary focus is grassroots community engagement, which was something that I was already doing as a parish councillor. ”
What will it take to get enough votes to win a Brookside seat?
“One of the biggest problems we have in Brookside, and in many less affluent estates in Telford, is apathy. People who are generally distrusting of the ‘establishment’. People who have been let down again and again and have come to tragic conclusion that the only people they can depend on is themselves. With this in mind they choose not to vote. They are suspicious of anyone who says they want help. Alternatively we have residents who see only two valid voting options; Labour for the poor, Tory for the rich. There are no other distinctions and few of us actually bother doing any proper due diligence to find out who these people on the ballot are. I was the same. I saw a list of names of people I had never heard of before and I picked them based on party only. Looking back I’m not sure if I did exactly what they wanted me to do…..
It will be a challenge to get votes in May but the best I can do is provide people with a chance for change. Showing them that there is another way…
We deserve representatives that will be accountable and speak for us and to us. If that means we all work a bit harder to improve things in the run up to the elections then we all benefit.”
What are you hearing on the doorsteps?
“Generally the reception has been good. Many people just appreciate the opportunity to be heard but some people are angry. Many have confused me for a current borough councillor which has meant receiving the wrath of residents who have had enough of fly tips, crime, anti social behaviour, broken roads and damaged street lights. Many are so fed up with broken promises that they are keen to tar anyone with good intentions the same brush. It makes me sad that some of the people I spoke to have given up and now only expect the worst. They can’t and won’t entertain the notion that they deserve better and that better is possible. ”
You have embraced social media and the power of video in your campaign so far. Do you think this is a reflection on being part of a different generation to most of the current Councillors?
“This wasn’t necessarily on purpose and to be honest Cllr Shana doesn’t really have much of a following on Facebook (I’m sure 90% are just my family or people who know my mum) so many times it feels like you are just shouting into the void.
I think it is important for all candidates to engage with voters using as many communication platforms as they can. With multiple generations now able to vote we need to ensure that no one is left behind, so embracing technology is important but this shouldn’t replace the value of the personal touch and actually going out on to people’s doorsteps and having constructive dialogue about what issues are important to them. ”
I think it’s mathematically impossible for the Lib Dems to take control of the Council. If you did get elected, what would you hope to deliver for the people of Brookside?
“I had the opportunity to run for another seat (in a previous incarnation) – this was not Brookside. I couldn’t in good conscience do this. I am not a politician. I was just a frustrated resident who felt powerless and alone. Brookside and the people of Brookside were why I started this journey. I was from that family with the overgrown garden and the mattress in the back garden. I was the kid on free school meals. I was the kid who had to hunt for coins in the couch when the electric metre ran out. I was the kid that was called a chav when people found out where I came from.
I want to make sure that people in Brookside get the same opportunities as everyone else. That our children aren’t discriminated against by their virtue of their post code.
We need to help people to realise their potential. Supporting small business start ups. Improving our public transportation system so people can actually go to college and get jobs. Working in collaboration with the police and wonderful local service providers such as Recharge, to tackle anti social behaviour and vandalism.
I recently heard a woman, who just moved to the area, use the phrase ‘I’m just keeping my head down’. We need to demonstrate neighbourly compassion more often – not just in a crisis. So many people in the area live in isolation – my biggest aspiration is to be able to connect people across our community and unite them in achieving common goals. ”
What advice would you offer to anyone reading this, wondering if they should get involved in local politics?
“It is hard especially if you don’t have the right connections and have never done anything like this before. Having the support of a party and your family can make it easier.
I also didn’t know when I started this journey that fighting for the right outcomes would be so exhausting, physically and emotionally. It turns out real life is nothing like The West Wing!
You have to have a thick skin.
You have to be ready for strangers to tell you you are wrong.
You will never make everyone happy.
It is not up to you to save the whole world – despite how much you want to.
Most of all you have to really care about helping people.
The true reward shouldn’t be winning points for your party but from seeing the lives around you improved by even the smallest of actions.”
Thank you to Cllr Shana for taking part, another interview next week.
-The closest wards – Haygate
Haygate Ward in Wellington is a mix of homes and people from all backgrounds, and in 2011, was won from the Conservatives for Labour by Cllr Rob Sloan in a head to head with Cllr Pat Chaplain, winning with a majority of over 100 votes. In 2015, Cllr Sloan decided to stand in the arguably much safer seat of Hadley & Leegomery when ex-Council Leader, Cllr Keith Austin stood down.
Fast forward to 2015 and we saw four people vying for the Haygate seat. Two Wellington Town Councillors went for the seat, Cllr Graham Cook (Lab) and Cllr John Alvey (Con). These were joined by a UKIP candidate, Patrick Smith and Kevin Tanner, an Independent candidate.
The victory went to Cllr Cook, but with a majority of just 10 votes. One of, but not THE smallest we’ve seen – more on this next week!). So what does this mean for 2019?
No UKIP Candidate means that 226 votes will be looking for a new home so it’s all to play for. If no Independant or Lib Dem candidate materialises, then that’s another 76 votes up for grabs.
The biggest thing to have hit the Haygate in the last 10 years is the long overdue resurfacing of Hollies Rd late last year. Will that be enough to keep Cllr Cook in the seat? With a 2015 majority of 10, and 300 floating votes, this is one ward to look out for in 2019.
-How far will people go to get votes?
In a bizarre twist, a news outlet in Adelaide, Australia picked up on Cllr Thomas Janke’s campaign on Nitrous Oxide use in Norbroom Park. No votes in it directly, but shows the importance of the humble press release and picture. Hear the interview: https://soundcloud.com/user-218809029/cllr-thomas-janke-interview-abc-adelaide-1032019
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Footnote: Word on the street is that a Labour cabinet member is rumoured to not be seeking re-election in May.