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Guest Blog: ‘UKIP leader abandons Green Belt Review and her promise to reduce housing numbers!’ by Cllr Andy Barnes (Con, Laindon Park)

Cllr Andy Barnes, Conservative spokesman for Infrastructure, Growth & Development

Cllr Andy Barnes, Conservative spokesman for Infrastructure, Growth & Development

“Since becoming a councillor in 2008, I have attended scores, if not hundreds, of council and committee meetings. Last night’s meeting of Basildon Council’s Infrastructure, Growth & Development Committee must rank as the strangest.

The big news out of Basildon Council is the removal of the minority Conservative administration back in May 2017 and its replacement with a coalition of Labour and UKIP councillors (with a few independents thrown in). The Council’s Infrastructure, Growth & Development Committee is now chaired by UKIP leader Linda Allport-Hodge. This committee’s remit is wide-ranging but in practice its main responsibilities centre around the delivery of the Local Plan (more on that later) and economic policy.

Last night’s meeting began with a review of the Council’s economic development policy. This document is reviewed every three years and gives the Council’s development team a steer as to where members want the Council to concentrate its resources to deliver the best results for residents. Three years ago, the Conservatives set four very clear and specific policy statements around the economic direction of the Council. The report was a terrific endorsement of the work we had done, with all objectives set showing substantial improvement. Tellingly, even the UKIP and Labour councillors did not demure when we made this point.

The new Labour/UKIP document was basically the same as previously passed in 2014, with one crucial difference. The policy statement objectives, which had done so much to deliver real change in Basildon, were replaced with washed-out, non-specific statements that were so vague and general as to be almost meaningless. I challenged officers on this and they argued that less specific objectives would allow them to widen their remit without having to review the whole policy but I argued that the removal of more specific objectives made it impossible to accurately measure success or failure. Conservative councillor Carole Morris pointed out several basic errors in the report, which hardly helped its credibility with the Committee.

Eventually, the time came to take a vote on the issue but before this could happen, officers did advise that if councillors were still unhappy with the policy statements offered, they could consider a working group to review them and get them more to their liking. This was quickly proposed by Conservative councillor Andrew Baggott and seconded by me.

When you are in opposition, you quickly get used to losing votes. I stuck my hand up, fully expecting to be outvoted by the UKIP and Labour councillors only to look to my right and see that the two Labour councillors, Katye Block and Melissa McGeorge, had voted with us, giving us six of the nine committee votes in favour. Rather amusingly, the UKIP councillors also quickly stuck up their hands in favour to make the vote unanimous and to avoid the impression of splits within the coalition ranks. Thus, UKIP and Labour effectively voted against their own economic policy document, instead referring it to a ‘working group’ for councillors to rewrite it before bringing it back to committee.

Little did I know that this was merely the starter before we moved onto the main course. The next item on the agenda was the ‘green belt review’ commissioned by Conservative councillor Richard Moore in one of his final acts as Cabinet Member for Planning. The idea behind this review was for officers to see if the impact of building on the green belt could be mitigated by reducing the numbers of homes to be built. This action was taken with the full vocal support of many opposition councillors, including Cllr Allport-Hodge. Indeed, the review was really commissioned at her instigation, as a sort of ‘olive branch’ to try and mend relations between our parties and prevent the mess we now find ourselves in.

During the course of the presentation and the questioning that followed, it quickly became clear that the instruction that the report be commissioned to reduce housing numbers had been ignored. In fact, the report had been watered down to merely be a review of the Council’s process for selecting green belt sites. This was something the Council had already done as a normal part of the Local Plan preparation. The report about to be agreed would essentially duplicate this work.

Rarely has the contrast between opposition and administration been so starkly demonstrated. Cllr Allport-Hodge, previously the ‘champion’ of defeating building on the green belt, a councillor on record (look it up) as saying she would halve housing in the Local Plan from 20,000 to 10,000, found herself defending a muted report that she had brought to Council, which fulfilled none of aims she had so vocally demanded it be commissioned for!

We repeatedly asked for and then demanded that the original terms of reference be restored but again and again officers and the Chair explained to us that it was not possible to do anything, due to legal constraints and various other excuses. The rigors of office were clearly taking their toll on Cllr Allport-Hodge, who this week also found herself in the unenviable position of defending a company in Pitsea refusing to removing cladding from one of their blocks found to be dangerous.

The situation quickly descended into a farce with Cllr Allport-Hodge unable to admit, under fierce questioning from Conservative councillor Kevin Blake, that the original purpose of the report was being ignored despite the fact both the councillors in question were present at the original meeting where the terms were agreed. Eventually it fell to Labour’s Cllr Block to put the Chair out of her misery. She made it clear that she no longer supported the review and, bowing to the inevitable, Cllr Allport-Hodge attempted to save face by proposing to kill off her own report.

Consider that for a moment. Cllr Allport Hodge, as the Chairman of the Committee, will have spent hours with officers preparing the agenda and reviewing the options available. There would have been countless opportunities to change or remove the report before it came to committee. In nearly ten years as a councillor, I have never seen a Chair kill off their own policy mid-meeting. It really was an extraordinary moment.

The vote not to proceed with the report passed unanimously and Cllr Blake made the point forcefully that the Chair had U-turned in the most unbelievable way. The old saying that ‘opposition is easy, government is hard’ could not have been better demonstrated and, I must say, after watching Cllr Allport-Hodge relentlessly criticise officers and councillors over the Local Plan, it brought me some small satisfaction to see that she is struggling to resolve the contradictory pressures between the things she berated us for and said she would reverse and what is actually possible – a classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge: U-turn

Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge: This lady IS for turning

The rest of the meeting was less eventful, with the consultation on alternative sites in the Local Plan coming next. Members of the public were invited to speak on this and two out of the three took the time to praise Cllr Blake for his comments on the previous item. A consultation with Uttlesford Council around Traveller sites was agreed before an item around neighbourhood plans came up. I flip-flopped somewhat on this, initially resolving to vote against but then thinking that I would abstain but, ultimately, Cllr Baggott’s persuasive arguments finally convinced me to vote against. Unfortunately, the Coalition stayed firm on this one and we lost the vote.

Overall, it was a great night for democracy and local residents. Its shows how the Conservatives in opposition will continue to hold the Coalition to account for their decisions and, when the time is right, compel them to a different course.”

Cllr Andy Barnes
Conservative Councillor for Laindon Park
Basildon Borough Council

The Coalition Strikes Back: Revenge of the Class War Politicians

The day we knew was coming finally arrived last Thursday at the Policy & Resources Committee of Basildon Council. Having ousted the Conservative Administration in May, we knew it was only a matter of time before the new Labour-led coalition now running Basildon Council came after the people of Billericay. Billericay residents are guilty of a heinous act of ‘thoughtcrime’ in the eyes of Coalition councillors, namely that they consistently support and vote for the Conservative Party.

Billericay High Street

Billericay High Street

Last week’s meeting of P&R featured an agenda item to pull funding for three Billericay projects – specifically £365,000 allocated for public realm improvements in Billericay High Street, £150,000 for renovations at Billericay Swimming Pool, and a measly £80,000 to remove the bottle banks from South Green Shops (near where I grew up) and expand the car park. All told, we are talking here about only a little over half a million pounds of investment in Billericay.

Billericay is a relatively affluent area. We do not need a lot. We do not pretend that we need a lot. But residents of Billericay pay their taxes just like everywhere else in the Borough and are entitled to see their town see its fair share of investment. Despite the unwelcome sobriquet ‘The Billericay Mafia’ having been bestowed upon the late Tory Administration, Billericay has probably seen less than £1 million spent on it over the last few years. Conversely, the Tories lavished millions on regeneration projects in Basildon Town Centre, in Pitsea, Wickford, Laindon, all over the Borough. We did that because we knew it was right, because we knew those areas needed investment and regeneration, because we knew the residents deserved it, and because the Conservative Group is the ONLY group on Basildon Council that actually represents the entire borough and has councillors in every part of the borough. These three projects represent the sum total that was placed in the last budget for investment in Billericay and now the divisive forces of Labour, UKIP, and the so-called ‘independents’ on the Council are seeking to take these investments away for no other reason than political spite. The Coalition claims that they are simply scrutinising spending ring hollow. If that is true, why are ongoing projects in Laindon or Basildon Town Centre not being looked at? No, this is all about putting the boot into Billericay.

Callaghan & Allport-Hodge: putting the boot into Billericay

Callaghan & Allport-Hodge: putting the boot into Billericay

These three projects were already budgeted for an allocated as part of the Budget voted on by Full Council. To scrap them is both petty vindictiveness against the Conservative Group and part of the Labour Party’s wider Corbynite politics of envy. Labour and and the largely left-wing councillors in UKIP hate Billericay because they perceive Billericians as ‘well-to-do’ and Tory-voting. They have no stake in Billericay because they have no seats there. They therefore seek to punish Billericay voters for the way they vote and for being ‘too rich’. It is disgusting and it is unnecessary but these are the only kind of politics understood by an intellectual minnow like Cllr Gavin Callaghan (Lab, Pitsea NW), the new ‘Chairman of Policy & Resources’ (effectively leader of the Council in all but name). He is the political equivalent of a yappy little junk yard terrier; an Internet troll made flesh and now terrorising the real world of Basildon politics. It does not need to be like this. This kind of revenge politics is a choice. The Tories never picked on places like Lee Chapel or Vange because they never vote Tory and we did not try to punish places like Pitsea or Laindon when we started losing seats there.

Tellingly, when the story was published by the Echo, neither ‘Chairman Mouth’ nor his deputy, Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge (UKIP, Langdon Hills), were prepared to comment to defend their bullying tactics. Councillor Allport-Hodge did eventually stick her head above the parapet in order to make some menacing remarks that made it quite clear that the agenda here is revenge for the closure of Pitsea Swimming Pool.

Unfortunately, I could not be at the meeting last Thursday as I was at a wedding but Billericay was well represented by my ward colleague Cllr David Dadds JP (Con, Billericay East) and Cllrs Phil Turner (Con, Billericay West) and Kevin Blake (Con, Burstead), all of whom argued passionately and forcefully to retain this funding for Billericay. If you are of a somewhat morbid disposition,

you can listen to the audio recording of the meeting here. In a nutshell, however, what happened was that we were treated to a whole load of guff from Councillors Callaghan and Allport-Hodge about possible alternative sources of funding and the need to scrutinise Council spending. It was strange, then, that the £0.5 million being kept back for Laindon (where UKIP have two seats) was not looked at, nor was any of the monies earmarked for Basildon Town Centre (represented by two Labour councillors). Only the projects in Billericay appear to be under scrutiny. Much was made of the £4m funding gap that needs to be filled but it seems the Coalition do not know the difference between capital and revenue. Cancelling these schemes will do nothing to address our £4m funding gap because these are one-off expenditures. The outgoing Tory Administration bequeathed the Coalition very healthy reserves of £21m and Councillor Callaghan wants to spend around £3m of that on moving the Felmores Bail Hostel out of his ward (and probably into Billericay!) even though that is not a statutory duty of our local authority. It is a political choice he is making in order to fulfill a stupid promise he made to his electors in Pitsea North-West.

Cllrs Turner and Blake moved an amendment to strike the recommendation from the report but this was defeated by Coalition councillors. After some very skillful argument from Councillor Dadds, however, he was successful in persuading the Committee to remove Billericay High Street and the £365K from the report. This was a major win for Billericay but it does mean that the other two projects, Billericay Swimming Pool and the South Green Shops car park, will now be referred to the Regeneration & Environment Committee to review. I sit on that committee – in fact I am the lead Conservative member – so Billericay residents can rest assured that I will be making the argument vigorously to retain this investment for Billericay.

Cllr David Dadds JP

Cllr David Dadds JP

The inaugural meeting of the Regeneration & Environment Cttee

Last night was the first meeting of the new Regeneration & Environment Committee – one of the four new service committees brought in by the Labour-led Coalition under their new Committee System, which replaced the Leader and Cabinet model. It is chaired by Cllr Alan Ball (WI, Wickford Castledon).

Cllr Alan Ball playing swings and roundabouts

Cllr Alan Ball playing swings and roundabouts

The meeting was an embarrassing farce from start to finish. Filled with the worst kind of pork barrel politics. No sooner have the Coalition got their hands on the levers of power, already they are now tweaking the purse strings. They just cannot wait to spend your money and it has already started, with Cllr Gavin Callaghan (Lab, Pitsea North-West) using his role as Chairman of the Policy & Resources Committee to tuck into the healthy reserves, bequeathed to him by the late Tory Administration, like a ravenous, greedy piglet and handing out thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to the four service committees to splurge on their personal pet projects. And splurge it they clearly are.

Last night, the Coalition voted through a splurge of £174,500 on extra Pride Teams. Of course, we all love the Pride Teams. You can never have too many of those! But this is a trap being set for the Conservatives because it is only for a two-year period (eg, long enough to take them into the next borough elections in 2018). Bearing in mind, the grass-cutting contract is for 5-7 years! Looking at this project in two years’ time and trying to assess whether it has provided value for money and ought to be continued, I doubt it will tell us very much. The Coalition also want to take on the Essex County Council rangers, which they were keen to stress would be ‘cost neutral’ because ECC will cover the cost but, on questioning, there was nothing in writing and they could not categorically guarantee that Essex would fund the rangers for the whole two years. It also entails taking on and potentially training at least two new members of staff and then potentially having to sack them in a couple of years’ time. You would never know we are supposed to be trying to save over £6 million to plug the Council’s funding gap. But the Coalition are not worried about that. They are not worried about anything beyond May 2018 at this point. Splurge!

Cllr Gavin Callaghan - 'Chairman Gav' loves spending your money

Cllr Gavin Callaghan – ‘Chairman Gav’ loves spending your money

What was noticeable by its absence from the splurge was any mention anywhere in the work programme for either Regen & Environment or, indeed, Policy & Resources, of Labour’s much-vaunted ‘Forgotten Estates’. This was a mantra oft bemoaned about by Councillor Callaghan and former councillor Aidan McGurran. Yet nowhere is it now mentioned. This rather confirms the position that it was always a political stick with which the Labour Pitsea councillors liked to whip the Tory Administration. If they really cared, why is it not among their boondoggles being bankrolled now?

Oh, one area that is not benefitting from Councillor Callaghan’s largesse is Planning Enforcement (see previous blog). In addition to the Coalition’s apparent relaxation on the Council’s approach to illegal encampments, we were treated to a game of smoke and mirrors with the enforcement budget. If any Coalition councillor tells you that they increased the enforcement budget by £600K, please be aware that it is ‘fake news’. Under the prudent management of the last Tory Administration, an accumulated sum of £2.2 million of unspent budget provision was carried forward from 2016/17. The £600K in the agenda, being billed as “additional resourcing” was taken directly from this £2.2m, a substantial amount of which needs to be kept in reserves for any possible Hovefields site clearance. But, as was pointed out at the meeting, officers can access any or all of that funding whenever they like, without any need for the Regen & Environment Committee to vote on it, as happened last night. That is what the funding was saved as a contingency for. Essentially, all the Coalition have done is move £600K of existing funding from one column on a spreadsheet to another but it explicitly billed in the Committee report as “additional funding”. The Council’s Monitoring Officer, who was present at the meeting, confirmed that it was the same pot of money and tried to make out that it was some kind of drafting error in the report! She and the officers seemed initially willing to remove that recommendation, so that instead of pretending to provide more money we were simply accepting the officer’s otherwise welcome report. This was refused by the chairman and, when forced reluctantly put to a vote, was voted down by Coalition members. So, no doubt you will receive a leaflet at some point saying they have put more money in enforcement. They have not. It is twaddle.

The final contentious matter discussed at the meeting really was the biggest farce of the night and that was an item on whether or not Basildon Council should participate on the Local Highways Panel (LHP). Every borough/district in Essex has an LHP and, as in the normal practice, Basildon was offered representation on the panel. They normally consist of four county councillors and four borough councillors but must match the political proportionality on ECC, which would mean three Tories and one Labour. Now, personally, I do not favour borough councillors sitting on the LHP because I tend to think it should be the nine democratically elected county members for the borough who have been elected to the Local Highways Authority that ought to sit and vote on the LHP (I am open to the idea of borough councillors being enabled to attend as observers but I would not favour county councillors being excluded to accommodate us). I did not get an opportunity to express an opinion one way or the other, however, as the vote was a total sham. This was because, unilaterally and entirely outside of any authority granted to him by dint of his position as Chairman of the Housing & Community Committee, Cllr Kerry Smith (Ind, Nethermayne), who is also county councillor for Westley Heights, took it upon himself to write to the Cabinet Member for Highways at ECC and refuse, on behalf of the entire borough council, the offer of borough representation on the LHP.

Cllr Kerry Smith - power mad

Cllr Kerry Smith – power mad

This is a disgraceful and outrageous abuse of his position by Councillor Smith, who has at least exposed all the ‘happy families’ nonsense we were fed when the Committee System was brought in for the pile of hogwash that it is. The whole point of the Committee System, we were told, was that it was supposed be more inclusive than the Cabinet System, and involve ALL forty-two members of the Council in decision-making. Yet Councillor Smith sent an e-mail stating, and I quote: “On behalf of this new administration which is now in charge of Basildon Borough Council, we will not be participating…”. What administration? We are not supposed to have an administration. We do not have a Leader of the Council or a deputy. We do not have a Cabinet. The Council is supposed to be governed by all forty-two councillors in committees. This was properly a matter for the Regen & Environment Committee to vote upon but instead Councillor Smith has executed a fait accompli because he is swanning around in his new-found role, full of his own crapulence, acting like he is a Cabinet Member, with all the executive authority that would have entailed. But he is NOT a Cabinet Member. He is just a jumped-up chairman of a committee! He goes on to say, in a separate email I have also had sight of, to state quite bluntly the real reason for his unilateral refusal. “I have spoken with the other three group leaders [NB: there are FOUR group leaders on Basildon Council!] of the new administration and we will not be sending any Conservatives. This is based on the fact that the Conservatives are now the opposition to the new administration”. So now we have a new administration AND an opposition. So much for us all working together under the Committee System. Councillor Smith has let the cat out of the bag. This is, and always has been, all about a coalition led by Councillor Callaghan – the leader of a group of just nine councillors – getting into bed with a group of ten and two separate groups of just two councillors each in order to form a ‘coalition of the losers’ to totally exclude a Conservative Group of NINETEEN democratically elected councillors; the largest group on the Council! I should just add, that right at the beginning of the agenda item, it was painfully obvious that Councillor Ball was aware that Councillor Smith had acted entirely outside his remit and without any authority whatsoever and that this committee was required to make a decision but tried to gloss over the fact that the whole thing was a farce because, in the meantime, ECC have already actioned Councillor Smith’s instructions and constituted the LHP without any participation from Basildon. Indeed, they had their first meeting last month, as Councillor Smith well knows because he now sits on it!

The only bright mark of the whole meeting was the final agenda item, which was to receive a report from the Regeneration Team on progress so far on the various regeneration projects started under the Conservatives all over the borough, including the Basildon Town Centre masterplan, public realm works in Billericay, the delivery of the new Laindon Centre, Pitsea Town Centre regeneration, and the delivery of the new health centre in Wickford (which, incidentally, was recently opened by His Worship the Mayor, brazenly, despite the fact he bitterly opposed it every step of the way). If the ‘new administration’ really had any guts or passion at all, this would have been the first item on the agenda, front and centre. Instead we spent about an hour discussing the work programme for the committee and the major regeneration projects going on all over the borough was relegated to about 20mins at half-past ten at night.

To say I have not been left filled with confidence would be a gross understatement.

 

Illegal Encampments

The Labour-led coalition are giving up on supporting Basildon residents when it comes to illegal encampments that pitch up in Basildon creating a trail of chaos, misery and devastation in their wake and leaving residents to foot the clean-up bill.

Illegal encampment at Hovefields, Wickford (dubbed 'Dale Farm II')

Illegal encampment at Hovefields, Wickford (dubbed ‘Dale Farm II’)

On two separate occasions now the Coalition has turned its back on residents, deciding not to pursue infringements. The first such occasion was the decision not to appeal the court ruling that allowed Travellers to stay on Hovefields. The second occasion now comes in a decision on an encampment at Rushley Green. A Basildon Council spokesman said: “The council is aware of the encampment at Rushley Green and the Essex and Countywide Traveller Unit have been notified. Basildon Council doesn’t deal with these kinds of incursions anymore”.

 

Cllr Andrew Schrader, Conservative Spokesperson for Regeneration & Environment, said: “The coalition has turned its back on residents, signalling a softening in the Council’s long-held approach in dealing with such illegal incursions in Basildon. Under the Conservatives, Basildon Council had a reputation for dealing robustly with illegal encampments. My concern now is that once word of the Coalition’s lax approach gets out, it will spread like wildfire and then it will be open season on Basildon”.

Conservative Group Leader Cllr Phil Turner

Conservative Group Leader Cllr Phil Turner

Conservative Group Leader Cllr Phil Turner said: “For years a Conservative administration has stood strong against all kinds of incursions but in the blink of an eye UKIP, Labour and the Wickford Independents have thrown all this away. While I expected it of the other parties, I though as Dale Farm 2 was taking place in Wickford, the Wickford Independents might be hot on the case. Unfortunately, they are just as bad as the other parties”.

A Conservative administration will reverse these decisions and reintroduce a tough no nonsense stance on all illegal encampments.

Queen’s Sapphire Jubilee

On Friday 23rd June, I was deeply proud to be the keynote speaker at a special dinner held by the Rochford & Southend East Conservative Women’s Organisation in honour of the Sapphire Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. Below is a transcript of my speech.

Speech

“Thank you, ladies & gentlemen, for that very warm welcome. It gives me great pleasure to be here this evening but, of course, none of you are really here for me. We are all here for one very special person and that person is Her Majesty the Queen, who this year marks Her Sapphire Jubilee; an unprecedented 65 years as Queen of the United Kingdom and Her other realms and territories.

She is currently Sovereign of 12 countries, though that number has fluctuated during Her long reign, with many former possessions now republics. She is the first British monarch ever to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee and is now, at 91 years of age, the oldest reigning monarch in the world and both our longest-lived and longest-serving British monarch, having surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in 2015. Indeed, since the death of King Rama IX of Thailand last year, She is now the longest-serving Head of State anywhere in the world.

I am a borough councillor in Basildon but I am here tonight in my capacity as an avowed monarchist, loyal subject, and all-round royal nerd. But before we get on to the particulars of Her Majesty’s reign, let me just say that I make a distinction between being a mere ‘royalist’ and being a ‘monarchist’. Royalists tend to be people who romanticise the Royal Family. I think of them as ‘groupies’ for royalty and, as it happens, I am probably one of those as well but, more importantly, I am a ‘constitutional monarchist’. That is to say, in addition to a general romanticism about royalty, I hold a sincere belief in the institution of the Crown as a system of government. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those that have been tried from time to time” and if that is true then a constitutional monarchy operating as part of a pluralistic representative parliamentary democracy is without doubt the most glorious expression of that particular ‘least worst option’.

Republicans – with whom I have to say I have little sympathy – tend to dismiss monarchy as some kind of antiquated ‘lottery’, relying on a mere ‘accident of birth’ to provide us with a Head of State, and maybe that is true but Britain last played the regal lottery in 1952 and won handsomely and we have not had to gamble again since. In that same expanse of time, how many different presidents have been elected among the world’s republics and how many of those were even remotely memorable? Very few.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born by Caesarean section on 21st April 1926 at 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair – in a house that no longer exists. It was the London townhouse of Scottish aristocrat, the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of HRH Prince Albert, Duke of York (known as ‘Bertie’), second son of King George V, and Her mother was the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of Lord Strathmore. The Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, in accordance with long-standing tradition, was present for the birth – a custom dating back to the ‘Warming Pan Scandal’ of 1688, when the son of the unpopular King James II was rumoured to be an imposter, smuggled into the bedchamber inside a warming pan by a chambermaid

I am sorry to have to tell you, 1926 was the last time a Home Secretary was present to verify a royal birth – in what I suspect must have been a relief for Theresa May in 2013, at the birth of Prince George.

Princess Elizabeth’s paternal grandfather, King George V, whom She lovingly referred to as ‘Grandpa England’ and who called Her ‘Lilibet’, was then in the sixteenth year of his reign and in ailing health, suffering from COPD and pleurisy. During his serious illness in 1929, it was the regular visits from his three-year-old granddaughter rather than his convalescence in Bognor, that was widely credited with aiding his recovery. But, of course, he never fully recovered and it was on his eventual death (he was actually euthanised) in 1936 that the story of Queen Elizabeth II really begins.

TM King George V & Queen Mary pictured with their granddaughter, HRH Princess Elizabeth of York (this picture was actually taken at Craigweil House in Bognor)

TM King George V & Queen Mary pictured with their granddaughter, HRH Princess Elizabeth of York (this picture was actually taken at Craigweil House in Bognor)

1936 was the Year of Three Kings. King George V died and was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, the Prince of Wales – Princess Elizabeth’s dashing ‘Uncle David’ – who became King Edward VIII. The new king had always been a rather louche character, who had an awkward relationship with his strict disciplinarian father, who was always appalled by his son’s affairs with married women, most notably the American socialite Wallis Simpson. The late King George had prophetically stated, “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months”. He also said, “I pray to God that my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne”. And so it proved to be. When Mrs Simpson divorced her second husband, King Edward determined to marry her over the objections of the British and Dominion governments and, in December that year, abdicated in favour of his younger brother, who succeeded as King George VI.

1936 - The Year of Three Kings: (L-R) HRH The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), HM King George V, and HRH The Duke of York (later King George VI)

1936 – The Year of Three Kings: (L-R) HRH The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), HM King George V, and HRH The Duke of York (later King George VI)

Her father’s accession to the throne made Princess Elizabeth the Heiress Presumptive, which for a 10-year-old girl must have been quite a mind-bender. Famously, shortly after their father became King, Princess Elizabeth and Her six-year-old sister, Princess Margaret, were perusing the Line of Succession and, realising her elder sister’s position, Princess Margaret asked, “Does that mean you will have to be the next queen?” To which Princess Elizabeth replied, “Yes, someday”. At which Princess Margaret declared, “Poor you”. From that point onwards, this young girl was groomed for Her eventually succession. She was tutored on the Constitution by the Vice-Provost of Eton, She learned French fluently. Unlike modern royal children, who attend posh schools, Princess Elizabeth was educated within the confines of Buckingham Palace by royal governesses.

In 1939, the Second World War broke out and London was blitzed by the Luftwaffe. Many of London’s children were evacuated and it was suggested that the princesses should be sent to Canada but their mother, the redoubtable Queen Elizabeth, steadfastly refused, saying “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave”. So, instead, Princess Elizabeth and Her sister spent the war first at Balmoral, then Sandringham, and for most of the last five years until 1945 at Windsor Castle. The Princess was involved in the war effort, famously broadcasting with Her little sister on the BBC’s “Children’s Hour”, addressing all the child evacuees. In 1942, the 16-year-old Princess Elizabeth became Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. She became a Counsellor of State on her 18th birthday and in 1945 joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, where She learned to drive and trained as a mechanic. Famously, She and Princess Margaret mingled incognito outside the gates of Buckingham Palace on VE Day.

TRH The Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret

TRH The Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret

The Second World War had broken Her father’s health. King George VI was a quiet, diffident, unassuming man, who had never expected or wanted to be king but who ended up, following his brother’s abdication, being called upon to lead his country during one of the most perilous and trying periods in our island history, despite all his self-doubt and – as anyone who has seen that marvellous film “The King’s Speech” will be aware, crippled by a debilitating stammer, that made any kind of public speaking absolute torture. Nevertheless, with a spirit undaunted, he led his country through its darkest days, visiting the decimated homesteads of his capital with his loyal Queen at his side.

Whenever we think of World War II, we immediately think of Sir Winston Churchill and his great rallying, buoying speeches, assuring the public of the ultimate victory. Reassuring everyone, that is, except the King. One of the monarch’s primary constitutional functions is to act as a sounding board for the Prime Minister of the day. Because the Sovereign is the one person who is not grubbing for the PM’s job, they are the one person in whom prime ministers can confide their innermost thoughts, and fears. And Sir Winston did that. When he was terrified of the deadly effectiveness of the U-boats, when it looked like we were on the cusp of being defeated in the Battle of Britain, every niggling doubt, every pang of fear that Sir Winston felt, which was suppressed in him and hidden from public view, was poured forth and shared with the King. It was a vital catharsis for Sir Winston but must have had a devastating effect on the poor King’s already delicate nerves. The King chain-smoked his way through those dark days and, by 1951, he had terminal lung cancer – a fact that was kept from him by his doctors. Princess Elizabeth was increasingly helping to shoulder the burden of Her father’s public duties, undertaking a tour of the Commonwealth in 1947. It was in southern Africa, on the occasion of Her 21st birthday, that She famously pledged, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service…” And so She has.

HM King George VI and Winston Churchill

HM King George VI and Winston Churchill

Her beloved father, to whom She was totally devoted, died in his sleep at Sandringham on 6th February 1952. The new Queen was on another Commonwealth tour at the time, and was staying in a tree house in Kenya when She learned that She had acceded to the throne. She was accompanied, of course, by her husband – HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, the former Prince Philip of Greece – whom She had married in 1947, having first met him in 1934 at a family wedding. She saw him again in 1939 when he was a dashingly handsome young naval cadet at Dartmouth and She was but an 13-year-old girl. She was accompanying Her parents, who were visiting the Royal Naval College and was immediately smitten with the 18-year-old sailor and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has never loved anyone else in Her entire life. The two wrote to each other throughout the Prince’s noble wartime service in the Royal Navy – including active service in the Mediterranean, during which he saw action in the Battle of Crete, was mentioned in dispatches during the Battle of Cape Matapan, took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, and was present for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. The young, infatuated Princess Elizabeth kept a photograph of the Prince on her mantelpiece. When her governess, Marion Crawford, suggested it wasn’t a good idea as it might prompt gossip, the Princess undertook to remove the portrait. A short time later, Miss Crawford returned to find that the picture had indeed been removed and replaced by a new photograph of the Prince in uniform, sporting a full set of naval whiskers. “There you are, Crawfie,” said Princess Elizabeth. “I challenge anyone to recognise him now!”

Lt Cdr HRH Prince Philip of Greece, RN ("I challenge anyone to recognise him now")

Lt Cdr HRH Prince Philip of Greece, RN (“I challenge anyone to recognise him now”)

Despite some initial reluctance on Her parents’ part, and some snobbishness within the British Establishment, the Queen and Prince Philip were married and their marriage has been an exceptionally long and happy one. After 70 years together, they will celebrate their Platinum Wedding Anniversary in November this year. As She declared on their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1997, Prince Philip has been Her “Strength and stay”. They have four children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

I am reluctant to talk in too much more detail about events after 1945 because, if you are watching “The Crown” on Netflix – and if you have not then I would strongly urge you to do so – I would not want to ruin it for you! But suffice it to say, the Queen came to the throne as a tender girl aged just 25. She is now 91 and, in all that time, has barely ever put a foot wrong. This Sapphire Jubilee adds yet another remarkable milestone to the list of milestones achieved during the long reign of our remarkable Queen. For those of us who have grown up during Her reign and have known no other monarch – which is probably most of us in this room! – She is the embodiment of selfless devotion, dutifulness, dignity, and a calm unflappable Britishness. Her steady leadership – I was about to say ‘strong and stable’ but thought better of it! – has provided all of us with an invaluable sense of continuity and security. In an ever-changing world, She has been constant as the Northern Star. She has weathered dramatic political, social, and technological changes with incredible poise and stoicism. The Queen is governed, not by divine right but by a divine vocation and we are very, very lucky to have Her.”

God save the Queen

God save the Queen

All Hail President Trump!

Well. I cannot say that turned out how I hoped but it did largely turn out as I expected.

IMG_1480


 

I said all along that I hoped Hillary Clinton would win the US presidential election. The woman is as crooked as a corkscrew, in my opinion, but I at least thought she was actually capable of doing the job, whereas Donald Trump strikes me as someone who is just temperamentally unsuited for the office of president (that’s my delicate way of saying the guy is clearly bonkers). However, I also said all along that I thought ‘The Donald’ would ultimately win because of the way in which he has tapped into a populist mistrust of Establishment politics and the political elite that run it. I suspected that people would come out and vote for Mr Trump who do not usually use their vote at all or, indeed, have never cast a vote before in their entire lives. I always thought that Mrs Clinton’s unpopularity was also woefully underestimated. People may think The Donald is a joke, maybe even a dangerous one, but a lot of people hate Hillary and those that hate her really hate her. There are no half measures. They do not simply dislike her. They despise her to their very cores. She was, in truth, an absolutely shocking candidate and should never have got the Democratic nomination. I am sure they could have beaten Mr Trump with just about anyone else. I suspect the Democrat vote was badly depressed as a consequence. The Republican field was risible too, to be fair. I have never known a more dismal electoral offering than the one that was seen at this election. I was heartily glad that I am an Englishman and not an American.

Clinton - despised

Clinton – despised

Anyway, back to the result. It goes without saying, I hope, that if you work in the polling profession, you should probably start thinking about alternative employment. As one of my friends put it last night, you might as well be using crystals and tea leaves. Once again, the polls have demonstrated their very profound uselessness. I am, frankly, amazed anyone still pays any attention to them at all.

Of course, as with all these things, what is really needed on the part of the liberal-left intelligentsia at this point is a period of healthy introspection and an open and honest self-critique, asking themselves how on earth they got so horrifically disconnected from ordinary voters. Not just over in the States but here as well. After all, they got the AV referendum wrong, they were baffled the Tories won a majority at the 2015 General Election, worst of all they were just completely nonplussed by the outcome of the Brexit vote. Now this. How did they get it all so wrong?

This won’t happen, of course. I can already hear the Left dismissing the result, and all those dumb voters responsible for it, as the product of racist, misogynist, xenophobic, credulous idiocy. “No, no. It’s can’t be me. No, everyone else must be wrong.” The chances of any self-awareness on their part is simply not possible. They prefer to dismiss anyone who thinks differently to them as a feckless moron. They will learn nothing, subsequently continue to lose, and be infuriated and confused by it. That is their torment and their doom. In the Brexit vote, the liberal-left dismissed their opponents as racist idiots and, for some reason, that failed to win the voters over. In this presidential vote, the liberal-left dismissed their opponents as racist idiots and, shockingly, that continued to fail to win voters over. Well, gee, I dunno’. What do we think, guys? This sure is a conundrum, huh? Will we ever get to the bottom of the deep and perplexing mystery as to why calling people racist idiots doesn’t convince them to vote for you?

I am not pleased with the result but, I must be brutally honest, the complacent self-righteousness of all those patronising windbags, who were so denigrating and sneeringly dismissive of anybody who dared have the temerity to express support for a Trump presidency or voice their objections to the current political status quo, both here and in the States… well, those people are now going into meltdown and, quite frankly, their tears are delicious to me. I did not want him to win but there was always a little part of me that hoped he might, if only to see the self-satisfaction wiped from the smug faces of the libosphere.

The reality of this result will, of course, not be as bad as the hysterical reaction of the left-wing twitterati implies. Don’t get me wrong, I think it will be bad. Mr Trump… sorry, *President* Trump, as we should probably get used to calling him, is a demagogic mountebank. Worse than that, he is a bully and he is now a bully with the platform of being, nominally at least, the ‘Leader of the Free World’ and has a Republican Congress, meaning he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Indeed, he will likely be the most powerful Republican president in living memory. Not since 1928 has the Republican Party controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives all at the same time. It is going to be an unpredictable four years. But do let’s stop panicking! Apart from the fact it solves nothing, let’s be honest, while the guy may be a populist braggadocio of the worst kind, he is not stupid. He is not going to walk into the White House on day one and immediately order his generals to nuke Russia. It is understandable that people are shocked. A bright orange man has just been elected the 45th President of the United States. It will take time for us to restore our sense of equilibrium at such an extraordinary new reality. But, seriously, it won’t be that bad! I shall make another prediction: that wall across the Mexican border will never be built. In any case, if he is really that bad, he will be a one-term president and out on his ear come 2020. So calm down, dear. The world will still be here, spinning inexorably upon its axis. A pumpkin-faced man with a dead squirrel on his head sitting in the Oval Office is not going to change that.

There are opportunities here for Britain too. President-elect Trump will be possibly the most Anglophile president of my lifetime. He is unashamedly pro-Brexit, he takes our side on the Falkland Islands dispute with Argentina, and (in contrast to President Obama and Mrs Clinton) said that Great Britain would be at the front of the queue for trade deals – so Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and Liam Fox need to get in there and start schmoozing.

Ultimately, at the end of day, democracy happened. There was a vote and people voted and, as with all votes, the result must be respected.

So, congratulations, Mr President-elect. All I can add is, God save the Queen! Fortunately, we avoid such existential crises here with our vastly superior constitutional arrangements.

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Waste Changes

Last week, Basildon Borough Council launched an online survey on changes to its waste and recycling services and will remain open until midnight on Sunday 27th November 2016. Many of you will shortly be receiving a letter from the Council, if you haven’t already, encouraging you to have your say. This is not just an exercise. The Council are genuinely interested to hear the views of residents. I do hope that all residents of Billericay East who are able will take this opportunity to share their experiences ad express their opinion on the changes the Council are considering.

Bins

Some of the changes being considered by the Council include moving to fortnightly collections for black sack waste, introduction of wheelie bins, food waste caddies, changes to recycling collections, and perhaps most controversially, charging for garden waste collection.

Basildon Council, like all local authorities, faces immense funding challenges and is under tremendous pressure to save money, create efficiencies, and open up new revenue streams. As a Council, we also remain committed to increasing recycling across the Borough. Basildon already has an excellent record on this – the average household currently recycles around half its household waste. We’re one of the top five councils in Essex for recycling. We also, however, produce around a tonne of waste per household every year, which is the highest in the County, so we do need to do more.

Many of the arrangements that Basildon Council are considering have largely become the norm for other local authorities but, as local Conservatives, we have always been extremely proud that we protected weekly bin collections when other councils had moved to fortnightly – heck, we’ve boasted about it on our election leaflets for years. But we have also boasted about keeping the Council Tax as low as possible and the financial realities of local government are that it is unlikely that we are going to be able to continue to do both indefinitely. Looking at our waste and recycling arrangements is, therefore, both timely and prudent.

I want to stress though that we are consulting because no decision have yet been taken and your responses to this survey will help inform our discussions. To take part, please go to http://www.basildon.gov.uk/wastechanges.

Draft Statement of Consultation – Local Plan

Okey-dokey. So clearly I need to say a few words about the Draft Statement of Consultation on the Local Plan that was published last month, which has inevitably generated strong opinions, a certain level of indignation, as well as the customary rumourmongering and imputations of misconduct against councillors.

I shall start with a disclaimer. Firstly, I reiterate my previous declarations of interest that, under the probity code, I have a perceived conflict of interest due to a close relative owning land under consideration in the Local Plan. For this reason, I have not participated in any debates or votes concerning the Local Plan, nor do I attend any meetings where it is discussed. So I do beg the forbearance of residents, as I do not receive the same member briefings as other councillors. I am writing this blog purely for the purposes of providing information to my constituents and offering up my own personal viewpoint. I am a backbencher, so my views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Basildon Council or the Conservative Administration.

OK, so now that is out of the way, I think the first thing I want to remind residents of is that this is a legally prescribed process. This is not something councillors are doing for the fun of it. Cllr Richard Moore (Con, Burstead), Cabinet Member for Planning, is just about the most harassed and put upon man in the whole Borough of Basildon. I can assure you it is a process that nobody is enjoying! Nobody really wants a Local Plan. Nobody is relishing the thankless task of putting one together, least of all Councillor Moore. Angry residents to the left of you, disgruntled developers and landowners to the right. I would not trade places with Richard Moore for all the tea in China. But the fact remains that Basildon Council is legally required to produce a Local Plan. This responsibility, therefore, falls to the Conservative Administration and that poor chump Richard.

Cllr Dr Richard Moore - the most harried man in Basildon

Cllr Dr Richard Moore – the most harried man in Basildon

To deal with the politics of this – Party political broadcast alert! – residents should be in no doubt whatsoever how very lucky they are that we have Richard Moore and a Tory Administration producing this plan. Firstly, nobody should be in any doubt the sleepless nights Councillor Moore has had over this, how passionately he cares about getting it right, or how minutely he has mastered this brief. The statutory process that the Council is required to follow is an intricate, befuddling minefield, clearly put together by some sadistic Sir Humphrey Appleby character in Whitehall with perverse glee but, somehow, Richard has managed to get to grips with it.

Secondly, the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Nobody should doubt for one second that if Basildon Labour were back in charge, we would be seeing considerably more development land being earmarked in Billericay. Labour have made no secret of the fact that they think Billericay is being let off lightly by the Tories in the current Draft Local Plan. Basildon UKIP have said much the same thing. Their priority is and always has been protecting West Basildon, where they have most of their seats. Over the last two years, UKIP have demonstrated time and again that they do not understand the statutory requirements and I am in no doubt that they would make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing and produce an unsound plan or no plan at all. This would leave the whole Borough – including West Basildon! – vulnerable to speculative developers.

Both UKIP and Labour are parochially ‘Basildon-centric’ parties, because they only hold seats in Basildon New Town. Only the Tories hold seats in Basildon, Billericay and Wickford. Only the Tories have a stake in the whole Borough. Only the Tories have and will take meaningful steps to mitigate the impact on Billericay, as we are the only party that represents Billericay. But, as Tories, we have been absolutely clear throughout this process that Billericay cannot be immune from the requirement to meet the Borough’s housing needs. We are in a housing crisis and Billericay is a growing town itself and people born here are going to need places to live when they are older. Many of them, not unreasonably, will wish to live in their home town. That is why the Conservative Administration took the decision to prepare a Local Plan that spreads development across the whole borough. It would not have been fair to try and meet all of our objectively assessed development needs just in the New Town. Billericay and Wickford must do their share too. That is only fair.

The second point that I think needs to be made is that, in the public discourse surrounding the Local Plan, there seems to be some confused language. People talk in terms of ‘Basildon Council want to build all these houses’ and ‘just think what’s going to happen when the Council begin building’, etc. Let us be clear – the Council is not proposing to build anything (other than possibly a few relatively small projects through Sempra Homes). It is not the case that, if and when the Local Plan is eventually passed, the Council is instantly going to build tens of thousands of new homes and overwhelm our infrastructure overnight. That is not going to happen. The Local Plan is simply a blueprint designed to satisfy the Planning Inspectorate that Basildon Council, as the Local Planning Authority, has identified where development could be accommodated, sustainably, over the next 30 years or so. That does not mean that all the areas identified in the plan will be developed. Landowners and developers would still need to bring specific schemes forward and these would still need to go through the normal planning process, demonstrate their sustainability, address infrastructure concerns, and win approval by the Local Planning Authority in the usual way. Just because a particular area is identified in the Local Plan as having potential capacity for, say, 200 homes, does not mean that 200 homes will ever ultimately be built there.

There are a few specific points that have arisen in the various posts and comments I have seen online since the Draft Statement of Consultation was published. Firstly, the allegation that the Council have simply “ignored” the responses to the consultation. This is simply not true. The Statement of Consultation was released in draft form specifically because of the high number of comments received, requiring additional processing time. In total, 3,805 individuals made a total of 21,636 comments. Additionally, a number of comments were received that were ‘inadmissible’ by virtue of being ‘inappropriate’ (directed at Travellers, immigrants, etc) and Royal Town Planning Institute guidelines recommend that we give such people an opportunity to ‘modify’ their comments to make them acceptable. 45% of responses came from residents of Billericay, so none of your councillors are in any doubt about the strength of feeling in Billericay! Issues raised by residents are all addressed in the Draft Statement of Consultation, which I urge residents to read (see link above), but it is important to recognise that this was a consultation, not a referendum. The Local Plan process was never going to stop just because 80% of residents do not like it. A majority of councillors don’t like it either! Councillor Moore is the author of it and even he doesn’t like it! But we are obliged to produce one. Not producing a Local Plan is simply not an option.

There has been a general allegation that, in ignoring the comments from residents, the Council has gone on to propose ‘even more houses!’ Specifically, it has been alleged that the number of houses in H20-23 in the plan is being doubled, that three new strategic sites are being put up in Great Burstead and South Green, and that the Council is bringing the Outwood Farm Road site back into play. This is not the case. Points 7.77 and 7.78 deal specifically with H20-23 in south-west Billericay and point 7.80 deals with Great Burstead and South Green. If you read the document, it makes clear that a number of developers/landowners made representations to the consultation advocating larger allocations (1,920 homes compared to 970 set out in the current Draft Local Plan in south-west Billericay and a further 500 homes around Great Burstead and South Green). Obviously, developers and landowners with a beneficial interest in land in these areas have an interest in having their land included in the Local Plan and the consultation process requires Basildon Council to investigate these suggestions. All the Council is doing, as set out under Actions 3 and 28, is preparing site specific appraisals and a high level development framework to see if what they are suggesting is feasible and deliverable. Action 3 also covers Outwood Farm Road. The Outwood Farm Road site, which is in my Billericay East ward, was already ruled out once before and I very much hope it will be ruled out again but I have to accept that the Council is required to do the necessary investigations and follow the evidence base for the Publication Local Plan, which will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The Council has to demonstrate to the Inspectorate that it has addressed all comments and suggestions submitted through the consultation. There seems to be an assumption though that if a developer/landowner has advocated for a particular site that it will automatically be included in the Publication Local Plan. There is a great deal of work to be done before then and no guarantee that just because a developer/landowner wants their land in the plan that it will ultimately end up in there.

I was asked the other day what the next port of call is for residents. Again, there is an assumption that this is all now a done deal that will be steamrollered through. Not so. Towards the end of this year, the Council will put together the Publication Local Plan. This will replace the Draft Local Plan and become, essentially, the final draft to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for the examination in public. This will give residents another opportunity to comment and make their views known directly to the Planning Inspector. The examination in public will be the final forensic examination of the Basildon Borough Local Plan. If the Borough of Basildon does not have a Local Plan in place, it will cause the Council to lose control as the Local Planning Authority and, if that happens, speculative developers will be able to cherry pick land to develop all over the Borough.

So if you are wondering to yourselves, why would Tory councillors do this? Why would they risk the wrath of their electorates in this way? Why would they deliberately do something so unpopular? The answer is that the stakes are literally that high. We know nobody ever wants development in their area but we really cannot afford to fudge this decision. It is simply too important to be worried about re-election or our popularity, etc. Because if we get this wrong, it could spell disaster. We have to produce a plan we are confident will be judged sound by the inspector. Points 7.21-4 deal specifically with housing growth and green belt implications. I recognise that a lot of residents think we should retain all the Green Belt and use it as a mitigating factor for not meeting all our housing need. The strong advice councillors have received – both from our own planning officers and from professional external consultants – is that this approach would be judged unsound by the inspector.

I will not have a vote on it but I do feel for colleagues who may have to put their hands up and vote for a plan many of them may have reservations about but sometimes in politics you are required to do the hard thing and face the consequences. I just hope residents will pay some regard to the difficulties their elected representatives face when having to choose between doing what their electorate wants and doing what their electorate needs. If only that were always the same thing!

Full Council – 06.10.16

I start with my customary apology. I have not had time to blog for a while and I never got around to writing up the July meeting of Full Council but I want to write up the meeting of Full Council held Thursday night.

MAX WHITLOCK
The evening started with tributes being paid to Olympic medallist and Freeman of the Borough Max Whitlock. It is always somewhat jarring to see the UKIP Group joining in with this, given that they abstained on granting him the Freedom of the Borough – allegedly because their leader, Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge (UKIP, Langdon Hills), was bitter that her own nominee was rejected – but it is great to see Max’s Olympic achievements being recognised.

Olympian Max Whitlock

Olympian Max Whitlock

PQT and MQT
Public Question Time was a humdrum affair, with a question about allotments from a lady in Wickford and the now customary two questions about the Local Plan from the ubiquitous Roland Lazarus directed at Cllr Richard Moore (Con, Burstead), our long-suffering Cabinet Member for Planning. Member Question Time consisted of, amongst others, Labour leader Cllr Gavin Callaghan (Lab, Pitsea North-West) asking the Cabinet Member for Environment & Community, Cllr Terri Sargent (Con, Crouch), a couple of questions that he knew full well ought to be directed at Essex County Council, plus an inevitable question about ‘Brexit’. Cllr David Burton-Sampson (Lab, St Martin’s) asked a question of the Cabinet Member for Resources, my ward colleague Cllr Stuart Sullivan (Con, Billericay East), worrying in its economic illiteracy – not least because Councillor Burton-Sampson is the vice-chairman of the Audit & Risk Committee. There was then much mirth as Cllr Alan Ball (WI, Wickford Castledon) asked a question about the rather pithy “Don’t be a tosser” anti-litter campaign advertisements.

Tosser

GAMBLING
The first item of business on the agenda was to adopt the revised Gambling Act (2003) Statement of Licensing Policy. Cllr Allan Davies (Lab, Fryerns) raised quite a reasonable point about ATMs being permitted in betting shops. It produced an interesting debate. I for one have always abhorred gambling. I am even reticent about participating in sweepstakes at work. Even charity raffles give me pause. Such objections are, however, strictly a matter of my own personal morality and, as a libertarian at heart, I have to concede that it is my personal choice not to gamble but, in a free society, mature adults are at liberty to do so, should they so choose.

There would clearly be a strong business case for placing an ATM machine inside a betting shop and it would be useful for gamblers, whom we have to assume are mature, responsible adults, and entitled to the convenience of such a service. I understood Councillor Davies’ scruples about the possible effect that such provision could have upon anyone with a gambling addiction. He posited that a gambling addict, exhausted of cash funds, would simply go home. I find this, however, implausible. Any serious gambling addict is not going to be so easily thwarted and is quite capable of walking down the road to the nearest cashpoint and returning to the betting shop. Nowadays, of course, the hardened gambler can also just as easily gamble at home online. I know this all too well – having worked in credit card collections in a previous life and seen all too many over-limit credit card statements with online gambling transactions for frightening amounts. In any case, as Councillor Moore pointed out, this is a matter of Central Government policy. So I voted to adopt the policy. Councillor Davies and Labour abstained. I still hate gambling but I have to recognise that it is a perfectly legal activity.

TREASURY MANAGEMENT
We then moved onto the extremely pedestrian Treasury Management Annual Report and Prudential Indicators (exactly as sexy as it sounds), during which our officers and Councillor Sullivan – the Iron Chancellor of Basildon – were quite rightly lionised for their sound management of the Borough’s finances. There was another interesting intervention from Councillor Burton-Sampson, attacking the Administration for borrowing too much. I must say, I did find it fascinating to hear a socialist criticising the Tories for taking advantage of historic low interest rates in order to fund capital investment, particularly when said socialists have opposed every penny the Administration has ever tried to cut, has entreated us to spend more, and would undoubtedly tax and spend and borrow to their little hearts’ content should they ever again obtain power in Basildon.

STANDARDS
The next item should have been the tediously straightforward consideration of a report by the Monitoring Officer, Lorraine Browne, into the arrangements for the Joint Standards Committee. The Monitoring Officer’s report ensures that our arrangements meet national legislation and included a recommendation to reappoint the four independent persons who currently sit on the Committee. This should have been a simple formality but then, extraordinarily, the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Stephen Ward (UKIP, Pitsea South-East) – Chairman of the Joint Standards Committee no less! – moved an extraordinary amendment to the report, altering the Monitoring Officer’s recommendation to reappoint the four independent persons in favour of sacking them and appointing four new people!
I cannot stress enough how utterly bizarre and unacceptable this amendment was!

For a start, the amendment was moved apparently at the last moment, with no advance notice given to Group Leaders or, apparently, officers – including the Monitoring Officer, who looked pretty dumbfounded. As the Monitoring Officer makes clear in her report, the independent persons were appointed to serve on the Joint Standards Committee in 2012, to comply with the requirements of the Localism Act (2011). The current four were appointed to serve a four-year term with the option to renew and all four have indicated a willingness to continue serving the Committee and the officer says in her report “I believe the Council is really fortunate to have such a resource available to it for a further four years”. Now, I am sure you can all imagine what a sexy, interesting, adrenalin-pumping job it is, serving on the Joint Standards Committee of Basildon Council, so obviously there are literally dozens of candidates just hurling themselves at us to do it (please note heavy use of sarcasm) but when you already have four people who have, between them, accumulated sixteen years of experience and whom you have already invested in training in standards issues, why on earth would you go to the time and expense of advertising for four new ones? Why would you imply dissatisfaction with the four serving independent persons? Are they no longer ‘independent’? I have to say, I was totally appalled and completely baffled that, of all people, the Chairman of the Committee himself would move such a dim-witted amendment. I am happy to say that the amendment was defeated and the unaltered report adopted. Quite how Councillor Ward will be able to look the independent persons in the eye at the next Standards meeting is beyond me. I cannot think what on earth possessed him to try and get rid of them.

Bizarre - Cllr Stephen Ward

Bizarre – Cllr Stephen Ward

COUNCIL COMMITTEES
The next item was to review the allocation of seats on the Council’s committees. This has been necessitated by the very wise decision of Cllr Peter Holliman (Con, Wickford North) to defect from the Wickford Independents (or ‘Windies’) to the Conservative Group. Councillor Holliman has been quoted publicly as saying, quite rightly, that he can better serve his residents by operating within the ruling group. Between you and me, dear reader, I also hear rumours of fractious relations between Councillor Holliman and our illustrious Mayor, Cllr David Harrison (WI, Wickford Park), who it has to be said does have a reputation for ego and for not being a great ‘team player’. Far be it from me to comment on such scuttlebutt but, nonetheless, it means the composition of the Council is now slightly altered, taking the Tories from 18 to 19 and reducing the Windies from three to just two. The other political groups remain unchanged. Although entitled to greater representation, the Conservative Group opted to forego this due to the disruption it would cause the Committees, so the recommendation of the view was to leave the Committees unchanged.
Sensible move - Cllr Peter Holliman

Sensible move – Cllr Peter Holliman

Sadly, this magnanimity was not replicated on the Opposition benches and Councillor Callaghan moved a spiteful amendment to remove Councillor Holliman as Chairman of the Licensing Committee. Not because of anything Councillor Holliman has done wrong whilst serving in that apolitical role but purely because he has had the temerity to become a Conservative. Sadly, spite was in full flow that evening, so the amendment was passed – but only with the casting vote of the Mayor (Councillor Holliman’s erstwhile leader) – and Cllr Alan Bennett (Lab, Lee Chapel North) was installed as the new Chairman of Licensing. Nice to see His Worship the Mayor isn’t at all bitter! (Again, please note heavy use of sarcasm.)
VEOLIA
We then arrived at the Notices of Motion, with the first being a motion by Councillor Sargent expressing the Council’s gratitude to the Veolia North Thames Trust (VNTT) for all the support they have given to projects across the Borough and our disappointment at the decision of Veolia UK to disband VNTT. Councillor Sargent and the Conservative Group are keen to encourage the new centralised trust – the Veolia Environmental Trust – to prioritise projects within the Borough of Basildon, given the ongoing landfill activities in the Borough. This motion, I am pleased to say, was unanimously passed.
ALLPORT-HODGE
We then moved on to probably the most contentious item of business of the evening: a motion by Cllr Stephen Hillier (Con, Langdon Hills), a member of the Housing & Growth Scrutiny Committee, to remove Councillor Allport-Hodge has Chairman of the Committee. Now, I should state clearly for the record that the Housing & Growth Scrutiny Committee (H&G) has met three times since it was created by the Unholy Alliance in their conspiratorial Order Paper at the Council AGM following the 2016 Local Elections and I have not personally attended any of those meetings. Under Councillor Allport-Hodge’s chairmanship, H&G has concerned itself almost exclusively with the Local Plan and, in line with my longstanding declarations under the probity regulations, I do not attend or vote on any matters pertaining directly to the Local Plan. Nevertheless, like all councillors, I receive minutes of meetings, etc, and because I commute four hours a day, I certainly have time to read them. The Conservative Group also receives briefings from Tory members of committees at our fortnightly Group meetings and Councillor Allport-Hodge’s chairmanship of H&G has been a regular cause for complaint.
Incompetent - Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge

Incompetent – Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge

I have to say from the outset, that it was never clear to me what the purpose was in these new scrutiny committees. They were created in the Order Paper of the Unholy Alliance between UKIP and Labour as a sort of ‘fudge’ (the ‘Allsorts-Fudge Coalition’, as we called it at the time). In addition to H&G, chaired by the UKIP Leader, the Order Paper also created an Infrastructure & Community Scrutiny Committee (I&C), chaired by Councillor Callaghan. Oddly, I&C has a very similar brief to H&G, most notably both have scrutiny of the Local Plan within their remit. I could not understand at the time why you would create two new scrutiny committees, at not inconsiderable cost to the taxpayer, and give them overlapping responsibilities. Anyone in any organisation knows that it makes no sense to have people duplicating work. So what could be the reason? The reason, of course, is the Allsorts-Fudge Coalition. When UKIP and Labour slipped into bed together, they could not agree who would get to be on top. That is why they left us the Cabinet and kept us on as a minority administration. Cllrs Allport-Hodge and Callaghan can quite legitimately say that they are not in a formal alliance with one another (because that would require a level of organisation and discipline alien to either group). Instead, this is the fudged pact we were bequeathed. They carved up the Council committees amongst themselves and, as part of this compromise, created two ‘vanity committees’ – because that is what they are, vanity committees – to provide both Opposition group leaders with a convenient stick, to wield lazil y and club-like, against the Administration and in particular Councillor Moore and the Local Plan.
Ever since H&G commenced its work, it has become apparent to any unbiased observer that Councillor Allport-Hodge is simply not up to the job. Councillor Hillier makes the fair observation that she all too often seems to confuse her former life as an officer of the Council with her new role as an elected member and does not seem to understand the proper function of scrutiny at all. In particular, there have been problems with producing the forward work plan for the Committee – so much so, that an entire meeting lasting two and a quarter hours was devoted to that minor task alone. This is unheard of in scrutiny committees. Throughout, the Chairman was apparently incapable of providing members with any guidance as to what she was hoping to achieve. She apparently tried to delegate the chairing of one meeting to the Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission, seemingly unaware that this is unconstitutional. The most recent H&G meeting, I am told, concerned the Draft Local Plan Statement of Consultation, at which the Chairman limited discussion to just two hours (so less time, in fact, than was allocated to discussing the forward work plan!). She then proceeded to seek to curtail debate on this important topic. I am also told that at one meeting the Chairman arrived with a brand new agenda that she had drawn up herself and attempted to junk the one that had been distributed to members and work instead from her own one. This is clearly highly unprofessional and not how such meetings should be conducted.
Moreover, we are five months into the municipal year and, after three meetings, the Housing & Growth Scrutiny Committee is yet to discuss either housing or growth, instead favouring a narrow focus specifically on the Local Plan (particularly indulging her obsessive belief that all its ills are a consequence of our current membership of the European Union). In what was seen as the final straw, she announced her intention to invite a member of the Planning Inspectorate to attend a meeting to discuss various ‘what ifs’ in relation to the Local Plan. This is not only wholly outside her jurisdiction as Chairman, it is effectively interfering with the Local Plan process itself. Although I have had, for reasons of probity, to recuse myself from that process, I am painfully aware of how delicate it is and how easily developers in particular can call the process into question and use it as an excuse to challenge the soundness of Basildon’s plan – which they would dearly love to do, I am sure, in the hope of getting an even greater housing number. In that sense, I am afraid it is difficult to see Councillor Allport-Hodge and those now lamenting her removal as anything more than ‘useful idiots’ for the developers (if I may be forgiven for putting it so strongly). Given what is at stake with this process, we simply cannot afford to have people using a vanity committee, whether self-promoting or genuinely well-meaning, to lob grenades and seek to subvert that process. So partly for that reason, and because I was satisfied she simply is not up to the job, I voted in favour of removing Councillor Allport-Hodge as Chairman of Housing & Growth Scrutiny. It seems that a majority of councillors agreed, as the motion was passed and Cllr Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) was selected in her stead. Councillor Baggott was formerly Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission and in that capacity won wide respect across the chamber for the way he operated Scrutiny and opened the process up to backbench and Opposition councillors. I am sure he will get the work of H&G back on track.
New Chairman - Cllr Andrew Baggott

New Chairman – Cllr Andrew Baggott

There was interesting speech from Cllr Mark Ellis (UKIP, Laindon Park), one of the few Opposition councillors to actually speak to the motion, in which he basically asserted that our motion to remove Councillor Allport-Hodge was different from the removal of Cllr Carole Morris (Con, Wickford North) as Chairman of the Planning Committee and the attempt to remove Councillor Sargent as Cabinet Member for Environment & Community because in both those cases, there had been an “abuse of power” and because we had shown “no evidence” that Councillor Allport-Hodge was incapable of chairing the Committee. I have to give Councillor Ellis top marks for incredulous commentary. Ignoring for a moment the litany of issues with Councillor Allport-Hodge’s chairmanship already identified, both Cllrs Morris and Sargent were shown to have acted entirely within their respective remits (Councillor Sargent was exonerated by no less a figure than a High Court Judge!) and Councillor Ellis seemed to have forgotten that, just moments earlier, he had voted to remove Councillor Holliman as Chairman of Licensing for no reason whatsoever.
BURGLARY
The penultimate motion of the evening was from Cllr David Sheppard (UKIP, Fryerns) and concerned the Police & Crime Plan 2016-20 currently being consulted upon by Essex Police Commissioner Roger Hirst. In particular, Councillor Sheppard’s motion was critical of the alleged failure of Mr Hirst’s plan to prioritise burglary. Nobody would disagree, of course, that burglary is a very disturbing and upsetting form of crime. Indeed, it is probably the most invasive form of crime outside of an actual physical assault. Councillor Callaghan afforded the topic the gravity it deserved by having a crack at Councillor Holliman’s expense, saying “Wickford has had more burglaries in 48 hours than Peter Holliman has had political parties”. Of course, the elephant in the room with this motion is that the Police Commissioner is currently consulting on his crime plan, and Councillor Sheppard and everyone else can all feed into that process, and should do so. Obviously, the Commissioner cannot prioritise all forms of crime, otherwise it is not really ‘prioritising’, and my understanding of Mr Hirst’s rationale is that the majority of burglaries are drug-related – eg, funding a drug habit – and that by prioritising drug crime and the vicious drug gangs that operate within our society, that will have a knock-on effect on burglaries. Nevertheless, with a little bit of re-wording to make the motion less combative and antagonistic towards the Commissioner, the Conservative Group supported the motion. It is also worth noting that the local District Commander, Chf Insp Shaun Kane, posted on Twitter on Wednesday night that his team had arrested four burglars overnight in Basildon. So it would be quite wrong to imply that this is an area where Essex Police do not act.
ILLEGAL ENCAMPMENTS
The final motion of the evening was from Cllr Gary Canham (UKIP, Pitsea North-West) concerning illegal Traveller encampments. I had a problem with this motion, largely due to the wording. Unfortunately, we had reached the guillotine by this point, so it did curtail debate on the issue. The issue of illegal encampments is one that exercises the patience of nearly all ward members. Just recently, we here in Billericay suffered problems from an illegal encampment at Queen’s Park, which later moved onto the playing field behind The Billericay School. Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have been aware of my frustrations at the time, as the legal process for removing these illegal encampments is quite laborious and time-consuming but, that said, I am satisfied that Basildon Council, working with the Police and the Essex Countywide Traveller Unit (ECTU), already do all in their power to deal with these issues as quickly as possible. But the problem with Councillor Canham’s motion is that it was specifically directed at Travellers and we just cannot do that as a Council. While it is probably true to say that nine out of ten illegal encampments will be the result of Travellers, you cannot single Travellers out in the way that Councillor Canham’s motion did. Because, while there are unfortunately some Travellers that will give that community a bad name, there are plenty of perfectly legal Gypsy and Traveller settlements that do not cause trouble and who get on harmoniously with the local settled community and who are just as horrified by illegal incursions as the rest of us. Councillor Canham did make some hurried alterations to the wording but, like I say, we had reached the guillotine and there was insufficient time to properly consider the new wording, so the Conservative Group voted against the motion.
It should be stressed, however, that a very similar motion, moved by the Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Kevin Blake (Con, Burstead), was passed in December last year calling on Central Government to provide local authorities with greater powers to combat illegal encampments and, since then, Councillor Blake has been liaising closely with other district-level authorities, Essex County Council and ECTU, and with Essex Police and the Commissioner on this very issue. Much has been said about the court injunction secured by Harlow Borough Council and the inevitable question has arisen as to why Basildon cannot secure a similar injunction. Unfortunately, it has been made clear to me that the Harlow injunction was most unusual and arose as a consequence of a fairly unique set of circumstances. Firstly, Harlow has been subjected to an unprecedented number of incursions (somewhere in the region of 135) over a very short space of time and, secondly and crucially, it was all the work of a single family. The family in question were named in the injunction and it pertains specifically to them rather than to Travellers generally. As I understand it, Harlow BC had to amass a considerable body of evidence to obtain this injunction, which took them months and was extremely expensive. As irksome as the situation can be in Basildon, it is nothing like what was experienced by Harlow. Finally, after all that, the injunction only lasts for eighteen months in any case and then they have to go through the whole process again if they wish to renew it.
Like I say, Basildon has a pretty good track record of tackling illegal encampments and moves them on as swiftly as the law will allow (generally between 7-10 working days). In the case of the encampment at The Billericay School, we were eventually successful in persuading Essex Police to utilise their Section 61 powers to remove them and the Council were very swift at reinstating the land at Queen’s Park. We will always work hard to minimise disruption to local residents in such situations.

Thanks, Dave!

I must begin this blog with my customary apology for the length of time it has taken to write it. A number of people have complained that I have not yet written up the Full Council meeting of 7th July, well over a week ago, including no less a figure than Cllr David Harrison (WI, Wickford Park), the Mayor of Basildon. I did not realise that I had such an august readership (he has clearly forgiven, or did not notice the ‘Mayor Muttley’ crack from a previous blog). Anyway, the write-up of Full Council is going to have to wait and give way to national politics. What a week in politics this has been!

Personally, I have never known a more fast-moving and unpredictable period in British politics and, I have to confess, for a political anorak like myself, it is hugely exciting. It all seemed to start with the EU referendum result. I already outlined my own position on the EU and I why I felt we should leave but, if I am being completely honest, I thought it likely that ‘Remain’ would win a narrow victory over ‘Leave’. That certainly seemed to be the perceived wisdom and the consensus of the polls. But, not for the first time, my perception and the pollsters’ consensus proved to be wholly wrong.

As I said on my Facebook page the morning the result was announced, I felt like I had “awoken to a brave new world”. I was, and remain, incredibly proud of the British people for standing up to the scare stories, threats and intimidation, and choosing instead to believe in themselves and vote for freedom and democracy. It was a great day for this country. But, while the doomsayers of the Remain camp were, I believe, hysterically exaggerating the risks of leaving the EU (not to mention downplaying or totally ignoring the very real risks of staying in such a fundamentally doomed organisation), they were not entirely wrong and, naturally, leaving the EU does present the UK with as many challenges as it does opportunities. The burden of negotiating the risks and capitalising on the rewards falls to the Conservative Party – as the current part of government – and, boy, is it an exciting time to be a Tory!

One almost immediate consequence of Brexit was the resignation of the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. As I said on Facebook, I was never a diehard ‘Cameroon’ and I was less than enamoured by his conduct of the referendum campaign but I thought he handled his resignation with tremendous dignity. I think he could have stayed on, had he really wanted to. I knew a number of people on the Leave side, even some really hardline ‘Brexiters’, who would have been satisfied to let Mr Cameron implement the result. I even spoke to two Tory MPs, both fanatical Brexiteers and neither of them Cameroon loyalists, who were satisfied Mr Cameron was an honourable man who would honour the result either way. I largely agreed, I have to say, but I can see why, ultimately, he felt his position was untenable.

Cameron Family

This then triggered the first Tory Party leadership election in over a decade, about which I have already blogged and explained the reason why I decided to back the leadership bid of Andrea Leadom, the MP for South Northamptonshire. As I said very candidly in my blog, I was firmly in the #AnyoneButMay camp, primarily because I felt the new PM ought to be a Brexiter and because I have not be an undiluted fan of Mrs May’s long tenure at the Home Office. Nevertheless, what was hard to ignore was Mrs May’s clear and overwhelming support from the vast majority of MPs. She enjoyed the firm backing of a whopping 60% of the Parliamentary Conservative Party and, in the end, Mrs Leadsom decided that, under the circumstances, it made no sense to subject the country to a nine-week leadership race and she very valiantly withdrew from the leadership election. It was the right choice and enabled the Conservative Party to appoint a new leader immediately. This was clearly in the national interest and was very much to Mrs Leadsom’s credit. Mrs May was duly named as the new Leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party in short order.

From this point, things moved very quickly. Mr Cameron held his last Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 13th July, followed by an unusually playful final session of PMQs in the House of Commons, during which Mr Cameron was in stunning form and reminded us all of what a great Commons performer we are losing (most notable was his delicious exchange with Ken Clarke and, of course, his final valedictory address), and then he and his wife, Samantha, and their three children, Nancy, Elwen and Florence, made an emotional farewell from outside Downing Street before driving to Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen, during which Mr Cameron formally resigned as Her Majesty’s Prime Minister. It is worth pointing out that there was, at this point, a brief window during which there was no Prime Minister and Her Majesty was nominally in charge. Despite the enormous attractiveness of the idea of leaving things that way, I am pleased that Mrs May eventually made her own way to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen asked her to form a new administration. With that, Theresa May returned to Downing Street as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service, the thirteenth Prime Minister of Her Majesty’s reign, the ninth Conservative, and the second woman.

I do think that the Conservative Party, in stark contrast to the bloodletting of the Blair-Brown years, deserve considerable credit for a smooth transition of power and also for delivering the second female PM in our history. It is worth noting that the Tories have done this without need of quotas, all-women shortlists, or patronising pink buses. Meanwhile, those useless Trots in the Labour Party are no nearer to electing a leader who is not a white, middle-aged man than they ever have been. So bully for us! Mrs May made her first speech as Prime Minister outside Number 10, flanked by her husband Philip. It was a bravura performance, in which she reiterated the Tories’ sound economic management, our steadfast belief in the Union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but most importantly, she made a strident reaffirmation of the One Nation commitment to social justice. Crucially, she also made it abundantly clear ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and I was greatly hearted by her statement “I know because we’re Great Britain that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world”. I emerge from this whole process hugely confident that we have selected a strong and capable leader to take our country forward and I am tremendously proud to be a Conservative.

Mays

Mrs May is, as I type this, putting the finishing touches to her Cabinet reshuffle, which has been so comprehensive and fascinating that I think I shall write a separate blog just on that but I would like to end this blog with a few words of reflection about the outgoing Prime Minister. As I said earlier in this blog, I am not a natural Cameroon. Anyone who knows me knowns that I am far from a ‘Tory moderniser’ and my politics lie somewhat to the right of Mr Cameron’s. “DC”, as he tends to be known within the Tory Party, had been Prime Minister for the last six years and Leader of the Conservative Party for eleven. I did not vote for him in the 2005 leadership election (I supported David Davis) but I long recognised that he was, in retrospect, the right man for the time. I can still remember saying to someone, all those years ago, that David Cameron – who was merely Shadow Education Secretary under Michael Howard (now Lord Howard of Lympne) at the time and had not even formally thrown his hat into the ring for the leadership – would be the most important political figure in British politics for the next decade. He scoffed at me and said that Cameron was just another flashy PR man. Like I say, I ultimately ended up voting for the other guy but I could tell even then that this man was destined for greatness. He had already made a name for himself under Lord Howard and I suspected he would be a senior figure under Mr Davis. In the end, my interlocutor was quite wrong and even I had underestimate the meteoric speed with which DC would make an impact.

Although I did not vote for him and I have not always shared his politics or agreed with his policies, DC did succeed in making the Tory Party electable again. It is impossible to understate what a stupendous feat that was. I remember it well. The Tory Party in 2005 was in a pretty parlous state. We had ceased to be the natural party of government, having lost three elections in a row, and our treasured reputation as the custodians of economic probity was still in tatters following the European Exchange Rate Mechanism débâbcle of 1992. I remember it particularly because I joined the Party while at university and, by 2005, our support was confined to the blue rinse brigade and a few eccentric diehards like me. The Tories were the third party among students, behind the Lib Dems, and seen by many – in Theresa May’s words – as “the nasty party”.  

He failed to win an overall majority at the General Election of 2010 but when that election produced a hung parliament, he formed the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s. One of his first successes, in my opinion, was his style of leadership and his approach to government, which differed so significantly from the spin and obsessive control-freakery of the Blair-Brown years. He picked a talented team (including, in fairness, a number of very capable Liberal Democrat ministers) and, by and large, allowed them to get on with it. Michael Gove was able to surge ahead with education reform, massively increasing academies and introducing free schools (150 by 2015), without Downing Street trying to pull the strings. Likewise, Iain Duncan Smith was able to pursue welfare reform, which have reduced the proportion of workless households to the lowest levels in nearly twenty years. But it would be quite wrong to dismiss Mr Cameron’s famously ‘chillaxed’ style to disinterest, laziness, or weakness. Good leadership is the art of wise delegation and, in this, DC showed remarkable deftness. Secondly, I think his greatest legacy will be the jobs miracle this country has seen over the last six years. Despite the dire predictions of the neo-Keynesians, he obstinately pushed ahead with the axing of over 400,000 public sector jobs and, sure enough, six private sector jobs have been created for every public sector job he cut. Wisely, he deregulated business when other European countries were increasing the regulatory burden on their businesses. He cut spurious employment tribunals, cut National Insurance bills for small businesses, cut Corporation Tax, and created incentives for companies to hire staff. As a consequence, he helped create 31.6 million new jobs! More than at any other point in British history. Mr Cameron is leaving office with the employment rate at the highest it has ever been (74%). Not to mention the fact that he took a country from economic crisis to fastest growth rate among the G8. Income inequality has also been cut during DC’s time in office thanks to the tax cuts he focused on the low-paid and because of the welfare reforms that have encouraged people to escape poverty through honest work.

In some respects, it is these very achievements that have made David Cameron the victim of his own success. The UK’s prosperity became a magnet for the world’s mobile workers, creating the immigration problem that, arguably, created the conditions for Brexit – the momentous vote that has ultimately proved to be his undoing. But we must be thankful to DC for that as well. For, even though he ended up backing the wrong side, David Cameron promised a referendum on Europe and he delivered one. All those of us who have campaigned all our adult lives for the UK to leave the EU and have now seen that dream become a reality cannot escape the fact that it happened because David Cameron delivered the referendum. For that, I shall always be tremendously grateful to him. I only wish he had picked the right side, for I do believe that he is instinctively Eurosceptic. Regardless, he was an exemplary leader of our Party and a fantastic Prime Minister of our country. He achieved much during his time in office, for too much for me to mention it all here, but they are things for which all Tories may be justly proud and he deserves our respect and gratitude.

Cllr Andrew Schrader


Basildon Borough Council,
The Basildon Centre, St Martin's Square
Basildon,
Essex, SS14 1DL

07769651708

andrew.schrader@members.basildon.gov.uk

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