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Now that the dust has settled

by Jo Hayes on 11 May, 2016

Now that the dust has settled since the Colchester Borough elections, I’d like to thank everyone who voted Liberal Democrat in Castle Ward very much for your support.

Lib Dem former Cabinet member Nick Barlow has triumphantly returned to the Borough Council, having topped the poll in Castle with 881 votes. Two Tories came second and third.

In an extremely close result, Bill Frame missed out on gaining the third place by only 9 votes with 792. I think it was very sporting of Bill not to demand a recount. I was 23 behind Bill with 769.

It’s a relief in some ways. From now on, it’s someone else’s role to look after Castle Ward and do the things I was doing, like report graffiti and dumped items, notice when a litterpick is needed, clear up the vast quantities of dog mess other people fail to clear up or retrieve plastic bags that are hanging off bushes and about to be blown into the river. It’s someone else’s role to receive phone calls at inconvenient times, deal with torrents of emails and put up with it when residents are abusive or unreasonable (which is quite often). Someone else must spend hours poring over agendas and reports on behalf of the residents of Castle Ward and spend every other Thursday afternoon in a minibus on site visits and every other Thursday evening at meetings of the planning committee.

I’ll miss the things I enjoyed, the successes here and there, like having found a way to get rid of the hideous hoardings round Jumbo (yes, it was me), or stood up against the proposal to turn Jumbo into an office block (which wasn’t even financially viable). Like having got the causeway behind River Lodge repaired, or got a collapsed section of the cycle route to Ipswich Road fixed, or helped individual residents with problems I could see a way to solve. Like having voted for a proper living wage for Council staff, or backed better provision for cyclists, or voted for vehicle electric charging points to be installed in new homes, or raised awareness and got the BBC interested in the terrible air quality that is killing people in our ward. Like having voted to save the Borough’s local plan from the Tollgate shopping centre proposal, or donated my first annual locality budget to seed fund The Waiting Room, or donated my latest locality budget to Beacon House to help those in our ward who of all of us need help the most: the homeless. And I’ll worry about the awful things the Tories might try to do in our lovely ward in the next two years. But the people have spoken and that’s politics.

I am not sure, though, that the sound that emerged when the people spoke was quite what they expected.

Castle Ward was served by Liberal Democrat councillors since the 1980s. Then the Green Party started to contest the ward. Or to put it another way, after years of huge effort a third party managed a breakthrough in the two-party system here and then a fourth party came along and made it harder for them. Last year a Tory got in on the back of the General Election campaign thanks to the votes against him being split. This year Castle had, because of boundary changes, all three seats up at once. The Green Party designated one candidate their “lead candidate” and asked voters to split their votes, giving one to him. This succeeded brilliantly – in letting two Tories sneak in and take two of the three seats.

The irony is that the Greens enabled the Tories to defeat the councillor who has probably the best track record on green issues of any in the Borough: me.

Had strong campaigns by Lib Dems not beaten off the Tories in several other wards, the Tories would have taken control of this Borough.

An island of gold would have been swallowed up in the blue ocean that flooded most of England last year. And the example of the Westminster Government shows what the Tories do when they take control. They unravel fair, green things the Lib Dems have spent years working to achieve, and they set about privatising, outsourcing and robbing the disabled to give tax breaks to the rich.

We have repeatedly warned that not voting Lib Dem, or not voting at all, risks letting the Conservatives sneak in and win. This is exactly what happened in Castle Ward last year, and again this year. But I don’t think it was what people expected.

It is due to the First Past The Post election counting system. We do not want it, it is a terrible system, but we are ruled by it. The Tories will never give it up, because it keeps the Nasty Party in power on scarcely more than a third of the votes cast. And the Greens, despite having few activists and little support in Colchester, keep pouring their activists from far and wide into Castle Ward because they have even less chance of a breakthrough elsewhere.

The Greens have no councillor in Colchester. Nor do they deserve to, after their cynical appeal to nimbyism by opposing garden settlements. It begs the question where they are going to put those 500,000 homes they say they want to get built in this country.

The Government requires each district council, as local planning authority, to allocate enough land to meet assessed demand for new homes for the next five years. That applies to Colchester Council, and if it refuses, the Secretary of State will overrule it. There is demand for more homes in Colchester. People are moving here because of the economic opportunities and because prices nearer London are high. So where will all those new homes be, if not in garden settlements? There is hardly any brownfield land left in Colchester to build on. What happens when the brownfield land is used up? Will the Greens artificially suppress demand by banning people from coming to Colchester? How?

Whatever the Green Party may promise in elections, Colchester Council has no choice but to allow some greenfield development.

By the way, the other day four Green Party county councillors abstained on key votes at the Annual General Meeting of Norfolk County Council and thereby let the Tories take control of that Council. And unlike what residents did in the fog of war in Castle Ward last week, those four county councillors sat on their hands with full knowledge of the consequences.

As a friend said, the Greens are the Tories’ little helpers.

   1 Comment

One Response

  1. Rain says:

    Great piece Jo. Sorry to see you lose your seat, but I am sure you’ll be back. Hopefully the voters of Castle ward will see that, in this instance, voting green lets the Tories in.

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