What You Can Get Away With » Essex

I know that some of my readers in Colchester and Essex are commuters, suffering the joys of dealing with National Express East Anglia (NXEA) on a regular basis. I’m not a regular commuter any more – though whenever I do travel to London now, I notice just how much worse it is than when I used to do it regularly for work – but those of you who are may find the @NXEAfail Twitter account somewhat useful as a cathartic way to vent your rage the next time you’re stuck for ages with no explanation as to why, or forced to take a bewildering array of tubes, buses and trains because of engineering works.

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Apologies for the short notice, but I’ve just realised that I haven’t blogged yet about the fact there’s a Colchester meeting for the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign on Saturday afternoon. It starts at 2pm at Magdalen Hall on Wimpole Road. More details here.

(Yes, Magdalen Hall is where the local Liberal Democrat offices are located but this is a cross-party campaign and meeting to which all are invited)

Just a brief note to say that I’ve been informed of a Take Back Parliament (the organisation campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum on the voting system next year) meeting for Essex that’s happening next Tuesday. It’s at 7.30pm in the Charles Peters Lounge of Chelmsford YMCA. I’ll be going along with at least one other person from Colchester, and if you want to know more about it, see the website here.

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You see, this is why more people should be reading my blog. As I noted on Tuesday, when I’d been at the opening of the postal votes here:

even if I had seen how people had voted, I’d be committing an offence by telling you how they did

So, if Kerry McCarthy had read my blog the other day, she might have thought twice before tweeting what she’d seen at her postal vote count.

The big question, though, hasn’t been asked. As James Graham noted, what idiot decided it was a good idea to waste the candidate’s time by sending them (or not stopping them going) to the postal vote opening? There’s an almost infinite number of things that a candidate could be doing that would be more useful to the campaign than that. Like Gordon Brown being in Rochdale yesterday – are they really running a campaign that thinks they can gain seats? – it’s down to a Labour candidate being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Just one link from me today – Mat’s latest post has a round-up of lots of things that are worth reading and seeing, so go see what he has to say today.

As for me, I’ve spent another day helping Stephen Robinson, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Chelmsford. It’s nice to be able to go and campaign somewhere else, just to help remember that this is a national campaign, if nothing else! There’s a really good atmosphere around Stephen’s campaign, and yet again, I’d advise anyone who is in Essex and looking to help elect a Liberal Democrat MP to get down there and help out. About 300 deliveries from me, as well as helping out the team in the office, takes my total up to 2,700 deliveries so far for the campaign…and I’m not going to start keeping count of the number of leaflets I’ve folded as well.

Still two hours to the final debate, and it’s already crowded out all other news from the TV. I’m almost tempted to watch The One Show in protest – especially as the BBC have wheeled out Quentin Letts from whatever pit of slime it is he normally lives in.

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If you’re one of the – rather large, judging by the number of people who seem to be Googling it – people who find yourself saying ‘I agree with Nick Clegg’ after last night’s debate, then why not help us in the Liberal Democrats make a difference for Britain?

You can easily read our manifesto online and find out more about what we stand for, and you can also join or donate to the party online – we don’t have Lord Ashcroft or Unite funding our election campaign, so we need the support of ordinary people to fund our campaigns.

You can also help us out by volunteering with our local campaigns and candidates, all of whom will welcome whatever help you can give, such as putting up a poster in your window, delivering a few leaflets or even going out and knocking on doors with other Liberal Democrats.

Finally, I want to plug a few of our candidates in Essex where you can help Bob Russell get re-elected as MP for Colchester or pop down to Chelmsford to help Stephen Robinson get elected there. Then again, if you fancy a day at the seaside, then why not head down to Southend where you can help Peter Welch? Or, for some real fun you could go to Brentwood and help David Kendall in his fight to create the ‘Portillo moment‘ of the 2010 election and unseat Tory Party chairman Eric Pickles.

If you agree with us, don’t just vote for us – help us win!

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It’s not hard to find the Taxpayers Alliance denouncing governmental waste and criticising elected officials who have wasted public money. So, it’s quite easy to guess what they’re going to say when an MP is ordered to repay £60,000 of his expenses, isn’t it?

Come on, have a guess – will it be to demand that he should pay back even more? Perhaps they’ll even call for him to resign immediately and face the music from his constituents? Whatever, I’m sure it will be the usual mix of righteous indignation and moral/financial superiority that characterises most emissions from the TPA. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to be that MP when the chief executive of the TPA has his say about me. After all, they’re a group not known for their equivocation in condemning waste, or accepting any sort of excuse in their quest to stand up for the ordinary taxpayer:

Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliot, whose group has been furiously campaigning for Westminster expenses reform, said he believed Mr Jenkin was “hard-done-by”.

He said: “It seems unfair to pick out people such as Bernard Jenkin, because when he set up the agreement with the fees office and his wife’s sister’s property, they were fully aware of it.

“In fact my understanding is the rent was below the market value, so it wasn’t a bad deal for taxpayers.

“I do think that he’s been slightly hard-done-by when other MPs have done far worse and, frankly, got away with it.”

Oh well, maybe this leopard has changed its spots. Maybe the journalist was hoodwinked by an impostor claiming to Matthew Elliott. Maybe TPA HQ was playing opposite day, and Tom Parkes was the only journalist to call them for a quote while they were doing it. Or maybe all Tory MPs are given a ‘get out of TPA criticism free’ card.

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I recently wrote a post based on an article on Conservative Home that appeared to have been written by Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex County Council. Having seen the latest in their series of articles by ‘Lord Hanningfield’, it’s clear to me that Conservative Home have clearly been taken in by a clever con, perpetrated by someone pretending to be Lord Hanningfield in order to post views that he would never have.

It’s a clever con, because the call for Councils to be able to hold local referenda so they could abide by the opinions of local people on decisions is the sort of thing you would expect a Tory Council leader to be proposing in an effort to show just how in he was with the ethos of the Progressive Old Etonians and the Bullingdon Tendency, but to put these words in the mouth of Lord Hanningfield is the work of a master satirist, an Essex-based version of the Yes Men, perhaps.

For Hanningfield is the man who so majestically dismissed the concern and obejections of thousands of people in Colchester when he wanted to close two schools. Thousands against, just over a hundred in favour with even the local Tories pushing a different scheme to Hanningfield, but those schools are still closing because his Lordship has decreed they must. So, to have him as the mouthpiece for local decision-making – and that’s not even mentioning the County’s designs on Rivenhall Airfield over local objections – is a masterpiece of satire. Well done to whoever pulled this off!

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The irony might be amusing if it wasn’t affecting me and the people I represent but Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex County Council and a man who’s never shed away from grabbing any power that comes within a few miles of him, believes County Councils should have the power to hold quangos to account.

The proposals are interesting, and might be worth discussing, especially if any of the quangos have the power to react in the same way Hanningfield does whenever anyone tries to hold him to account or question him.

Oh, and the first comment on Hanningfield’s post is most amusing too.

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Thanks to Chris Black for linking to me yesterday and reminding me to write about this story (also covered in the press here).

It’s stories like this that make me realise that, for all David Cameron’s cosmetic changes on the surface, the Tories haven’t changed underneath. Maybe they’re good at presenting their caring, sharing face elsewhere in the country but give them raw power like they have in Essex (where Colchester is the only Council they don’t control) and the velvet gloves are swiftly removed. When I went to a County Council meeting last year, one of the Tory Councillors declared ‘democracy in Essex belongs to the Conservatives’ which is scary either in its ignorance of the meaning of the word or its utter contempt for the process.

And that’s why I don’t expect anything different from Cameron and the rest should they get into Government. Just like Blair, it’s easy to talk about caring, sharing, consensual government when you’re in opposition, but then you win an election, find yourself in possession of something close to absolute power and why would you ever want to give any of that away?

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