One thing that’s interested me this election is that the Tories appear to not be bothering in the local election in my ward. We haven’t received a single leaflet from them mentioning their local election candidate, but that’s not too much of a surprise when the large majority of Tory propaganda we’ve received hasn’t even bothered to name their Parliamentary candidate.

However, after spending the weekend arsing around with a cardboard cutout of Nick Clegg, I finally spotted our local Tory candidate for Castle Ward on my street last night, and he was actually delivering something. Unfortunately, it yet again failed to mention him or their Parliamentary candidate, and was instead a rather nasty smear leaflet trying to claim that Bob Russell is responsible for all crime in Colchester. Indeed, if you didn’t notice the rather blurry imprint in very small writing, you might think it was something independent and not actually a Tory campaign leaflet. I’m sure that wasn’t intentional on their part, as was the fact it omitted to mention that one of the leading local anti-knife crime campaigners backs Bob’s re-election.

I think it shows the contempt the Tories hold the electorate in by not running on their own record and policies, but instead spreading lies and fear amongst the electorate. Whether it’s fear of crime, or fear of the people of Scotland daring to vote how they want to, the Tory campaign has been a spectacularly unedifying spectacle, seeking to do nothing more than whip up divisions within the country.

Locally and nationally, Tory policies are dangerous, and coupled with a mentality that’s happy to divide society and whip up fear for short-term electoral gain, they don’t deserve to be in power. We all have the power to ensure that they’re not.

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There’s one question that’s been predominant in my thoughts today: as the leaders set off on their final legs of their great campaign tours, some of them are promising to campaign day and night and go without sleep. So, how exactly do you campaign at 3am? Yes, there are a few people working overnight shifts and people who happen to be up at that time for one reason or another, but is loitering around a police officer on a night beat really the best use of anyone’s time compared to sleep?

John Thurso on a casual day.

John Thurso on a casual day.

Nick Clegg’s on a tour of the UK from Land’s End to John O’Groats (both conveniently Lib Dem-held and giving us a chance to review John Thurso’s facial hair at the end of the campaign) which gives me an idea for a fundraising challenge to coincide with the next general election if it goes on the same schedule. If you go at around 20-25 miles a day and stick to the more direct routes on the roads (I was on a more roundabout route), you can walk Land’s End to John O’Groats in less time than it would take to run the entire election campaign. So you could start on the day the campaign begins, get to John O’Groats and still have time to get back and vote. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for 2020, and count the posters on the way.

In local election news, I went to the Meet The Candidates event at the Mercury Theatre yesterday evening, which was an interesting experience even if I didn’t learn that much new about any of them. Indeed, the biggest mystery of all remains to be answered: just who is Ken Scrimshaw, our Christian People’s Alliance candidate? From chatting to seasoned hustings-goers it seems he hasn’t turned up at any of them, which does make me wonder if he’s been Raptured and taken away from search Earthly considerations as elections. So have any of you seen CPA candidates at any time since the election started, or should we be concerned?

For a more detailed analysis of the hustings, see Jason’s report at the Colchester Chronicle. For me, it reminded me why these sort of things are very frustrating to be at when I’m not a candidate as there are so many things I take umbrage with and want to interject into the debate and argue about them. Especially when a discussion about the economy gets derailed by the household fallacy and repeating mediamacro myths straight away, its hard to stay silent. I did manage it, though, and just kept most of my grumbling to angry ranting on Twitter which I hope amused someone.

hugemanateeBig election complaint today: I’ve had several emails from the Lib Dems about Operation Manatee today, and not one of them has used the ‘oh, the huge manatee!’ meme. I mean, what is the world coming to when a party can’t spot the obvious image that all it’s internet-savvy members think of as soon as they see the word ‘manatee’? Unless this is all just a big wind up, and the plan is merely to drop that image on millions of voters on Thursday morning, but with Paddy Ashdown’s head superimposed on the manatee.

Perhaps fittingly as we approach the end of an election that’s revealing all sorts of issues with the way the UK works, today’s one candidate party with a dream of greater things is the Democratic Reform Party. And linking to an earlier election update, their candidate in Lewisham Deptford is a badger. Well, he’s called Phillip Badger, which is close enough, even if he’s not a nocturnal mammal. Their policies are actually what their name suggests – reforming the way Britain works to bring power a lot closer to people – though someone in their party seems to have got a bit carried away when coming up with their ‘Online Parliament’ policy process, which makes the Liberal Democrat one look simple and streamlined. They also appear to have a penchant for stock photography on their website, which does make them look oddly generic at points. Still, good luck to them, and maybe the people of Deptford will rise up and demand reform on Thursday.

Some interesting stuff on Election Leaflets as the end gets nearer – I’d love someone to explain the issues on this one, or point me to somewhere I can find out more, for instance – but today’s featured leaflet has to be King Arthur Pendragon, standing as an independent in Salisbury. Yes, the King Arthur Pendragon often seen protesting at Stonehenge who believes himself to be the reincarnation of the ‘real’ King Arthur, and here described as ‘Titular Head and Chosen Chief’ of ‘the Warrior/Political arm of the Druid Movement’. Which is a much better title than leader of a party, I suppose. He’s stood at elections before, gaining 459 votes in Aldershot in 2001, 581 votes in Winchester in 2005 and 290 in Salisbury in 2010, so he hasn’t yet come close to retaining his deposit, let alone getting himself elected.

Only one more election blog post to go until the day itself! The finish line is crawling closer and we’ll soon find out whether the voting public can match up to the opinion polls, or if we can reject the result as it was a self-selecting sample and therefore not a statistically valid test of public opinion.

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Another stop on the farewell tour

Only a few days left for me as a councillor – I’m not quite sure if my term ends when my replacement is announced on Friday, or if I’m technically still in office over the weekend – but I’ve been chatting with Jason from the Colchester Chronicle about my decision to step down, which he’s now published as a post.

And if you missed it, my original post explaining why it’s time to move on is here.


As in the rest of the country, our local Tories are never averse to screaming ‘dirty Lib Dem negative campaigning’ when anyone says something that’s less-than-positive about them (and those sort of comments are frequent in Colchester when they propose silly ideas like this). Of course, what’s sauce for the goose is never allowed to be sauce for the gander, and the Tories are always keen to point out that their own campaigns are as pure as the driven snow, never negative or personal. Which makes this hard to describe.

lockerclegg(The original Tweet is here, that’s a screengrab in case wiser Tory heads have it removed) Ben Locker (the person on the left in the picture) is the Tory candidate for Mile End Ward in the local elections and also a friend and regular campaigner for Will Quince, the local Tory candidate. Judging from the pictures here and here, it appears that Castle Ward Tory candidate Darius Laws, another close associate of Quince, is also involved in this little stunt, which in absolutely no way surprises me.

This is what our local Tory campaign has been reduced to – wandering around with a carboard cutout of Nick Clegg, encouraging people to believe it’s all his fault. Whatever ‘it’ is and how ‘it’ can all be Nick Clegg’s fault is a question that Ben Locker refuses to answer. It does seem an odd message to be spreading, given that the Conservatives have been the larger party in the coalition, but maybe he’s just following the logic of their attacks on the SNP to their logical conclusion? If he genuinely believes his party’s idiotic propaganda that a Labour government would have to do whatever the SNP says, maybe he thinks that’s how the last Government was run too? It’s quite clear from their local proposals that Colchester Tories have no idea how local government works, so perhaps it’s fair to assume that understanding national government is a project that’s way too complicated for them.

If the Tories want to spend their time on silly personalised negative campaign, that’s entirely up to them, but they shouldn’t expect other people to forget it, and they certainly shouldn’t start complaining when people criticise them.


colchesternominatedThe Colchester nomination list was published about a minute after I published that last post, and it confirmed that there’d be six candidates (austerity bites with a 33% cut in the number of candidates), but also something else I’ve mentioned before.

In 2010, there were nine candidates for the constituency. Five of them haven’t returned for another go this time, but four of them have, which means we’ll have the same Liberal Democrat (Bob Russell), Conservative (Will Quince), Labour (Jordan Newell) and UKIP (John Pitts) candidates we had in 2010. (Bob Russell has added a ‘Sir’ since then, but that’s not mentioned on the list of candidates)

What this makes me wonder is whether there’s any other constituency with four candidates the same as they were in 2010? I’ll be keeping an eye out for any, but please let me know if you spot one.

After eight years, I still haven't memorised this list from the Council Chamber

After eight years, I still haven’t memorised this list from the Council Chamber

Those of you in Colchester likely already know this, but let’s make it official: I won’t be standing for re-election to Colchester Borough Council this year, so my eight years on the Council will be coming to an end in May.

It’s been an interesting and enjoyable time, but everything has to come to an end sometime, and it seems that this is the time for me and the Council Chamber to part ways. There have been various machinations going on behind the scenes and the stress from that, plus the pressure of just being a councillor (let alone the extra roles) has just been mounting over time to the point where the negatives now far outweigh the positives. It’s still enjoyable in parts, but the idea of going through the pressure of another election campaign, when I’m not sure I’d enjoy the reward – and then have to go through the whole thing again next year – isn’t appealing to me.

I can remember being told by certain people that there was no chance of me winning the first time around, because Castle ward was about to be subsumed beneath a Green wave, and then in 2011, there was no chance I’d get re-elected because of the coalition. So, just having had eight years on the Council has beaten a lot of people’s expectations, and having most of them where we’ve been leading the council and over half of them where I’ve been a member of the Cabinet wasn’t something I was expecting when I first agreed to stand.

Trust me, getting elected as a councillor right before the global economy goes into a tailspin, the country dives into a recession and austerity becomes the ruling dogma is a surefire recipe for living in interesting times. The last few years has been dominated by talking about cuts and savings and efficiencies, while laughing bitterly at anyone imagining local government is somehow profligate. There isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, either. The party manifestos for the next Parliament all promise some mix of tax cuts, deficit eradication, further austerity and certain services protected from cuts, all of which mean local government is going to take another hammering over the next five years.

But what about localism, I hear you ask? Don’t you have all sorts of new powers to do things your way? Pause to hear a legion of councillors laughing sadly at that. Localism sounds good, especially when put through the party political spin machine, but in practice it just means we get to locally decide how much we agree with Eric Pickles on something – total or absolute. For instance, the old centrally imposed housing targets have been removed, which sounds good, but the evidence base on which councils have to decide their housing targets haven’t, so it’s a case of no longer being told from the centre that the answer is 10, but instead being give two fives and told to go away and add them up locally, and you’ll be entirely responsible for the result. After a while being caught between voters’ expectations of what the Council can do, what it can actually do, and Whitehall’s continued belief that we should just be local delivery arms for the Government can get pretty tiring.

I’m reminded of what Tony Benn said when he left the House of Commons, that now he’d have more time for politics. One of the problems of being involved in the day-to-day politics of being a councillor is that you get swamped by the process and forget the wider issues. There’s a tendency to let everything become a process story, and I think that goes some way to explaining why a lot of politicians are suckered by the cult of managerialism – you can feel that the important thing is the sheer action making of decisions, rather than what decisions actually are. One thing about doing my Masters degree has been that it’s given me the space, time and context to think about politics on a much wider scale: I like talking about big ideas and ideologies, and not being involved so much in the day-to-day of being a councillor will give me the opportunity to do that.

What this means, of course, is the coming election campaign will be the first one in about a decade that I’ve not had heavy involvement in, which gives me more time to work on my dissertation – and I’ll likely bore you with more details of that after May 7th – but also to blog about the election, and hopefully find something interesting to say. There’s still a lot to discuss politically, even if the campaign itself is likely to be little more than game playing and process stories.

I’ve still got a month left on the Council, so it’s probably a bit early for epitaphs, but it’s been fun and I’d still recommend it to people who want to have some impact on their community, even if the Council’s not quite the grand seat of power it used to be. To those who remain, and those who come after me, I can only echo the words of someone much older and wiser than me:

One day, I may come back. Yes, I may come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.


Review: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Dracula at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

350x350.fitandcropIt’s been a while since I’ve done a review of anything here, but I wanted to spread the word about this production, in the hope that it might spur some of you into going to see it.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are a company that have been producing live versions of 40s and 50s style radio broadcasts – complete with traditional sound effects produced on stage – since 2008. They’ve come together with Colchester’s Mercury Theatre to produce a version of Dracula that’s a fantastic piece of stage comedy.

We’re invited in as the studio audience to watch a BBC radio production of Dracula. The company’s lead performer, Mr Starkey (perhaps better known to my readers as Doctor Who‘s Strax) helps set the scene for us. Some of the regular repertory company’s finest performers will be presenting us with a dramatic presentation of Bran Stoker’s Dracula, and to add some verisimilitude to the performance a real-life Romanian aristocrat, Count Alucard, will be playing the part of Dracula. Meanwhile, outside the studio, Britain is about to be battered by violent storms accompanied by thunder and lightning, and a number of mysterious deaths have been occurring in the vicinity of Broadcasting House…

What follows is two stories in one: the adaptation of Dracula being performed with all the plum tones and ham acting one expects from early radio drama; and the events going on inside the studio as members of the company renew old feuds and start new flirtations, cues are missed, sound effects are generated, and Count Alucard’s behaviour becomes increasingly harder to explain as method acting.

The whole thing comes together to produce a wonderfully funny performance and the cast are all superb in their roles, bringing some perfect comic timing (including some wonderfully comedic pauses in the delivery) and interaction with the audience. My only complaint would be that there are so many different things happening on stage at various times it’s hard to be sure that you’re experiencing everything that’s going on – while your attention is focused on the performers at the main microphone, something else could be going on at the effects table at one side of the stage and with the piano player at the other. It’s all expertly put together, and the escalating level of farce is carefully managed to not overwhelm the story.

I’d definitely recommend going to see this if you can – it’s on at the Mercury until the 15th November (go here to book tickets and find out more) and I don’t know if it will have performances anywhere else afterwards, or if it will just be a little theatrical gem for us in the East to tell you all about.

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