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Posted by: John Brace | 4th May 2011

Come on Labour; what do you stand for?

I read with interest Cllr Jeff Green’s letter to Cllr. Steve Foulkes (Leader of the Labour Group).

In the short time I have left as candidate in Bidston & St. James I will address some of the points it raises.

Firstly, what are Labour’s plans? Well, from a leaflet from my local Labour candidate, they plan (if they got elected locally and nationally) to reduce the number of people who can vote.

Personally, I agree with my party that everyone (with very few exceptions) should be allowed to vote. Currently the list of people who can/can’t vote in the referendum and local elections is different (which can get confusing). Lib Dem MPs did vote against prisoners getting the vote.

What else are they for? Well, judging by the picture of the Labour candidate on the Beechwood they quite happily respond to Lib Dem campaigns regarding speeding (which was a concern of many residents in this area).

This was as a result of Lib Dem councillors like Cllr Stuart Kelly and former Cllr Jean Quinn insisting that local people in all parts of the Wirral (and local councillors) have a say on tens of thousands of pounds spent in their area.

Strangely when their own party members on the Beechwood called for something to be done, why did nothing seem to happen until the Lib Dems got up a petition and campaigned for something to happen?

So what else is Labour for? Oh yes, taking credit for over a million pounds worth of investment in Cathcart Street Primary school that was decided by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors (but no Labour councillors).

When you strip away the things Labour takes credit for (that are Lib Dem/Tory policies or decisions) it makes you wonder what they have achieved.

In the last year they have been in the opposition on Wirral Council Labour haven’t had to take many decisions. Going back to the letter I will address some of the points. If any candidate (or agent) wishes to have right of reply please leave a comment.

1) Who knows what Labour would do, yet would you trust the Labour councillors who left Social Services “the worst in the country” with fixing the problems there? Cllr. Moira McLaughlin often pointed out she was “friends” with the former Director of Adult Social Services, John Webb. I have no problem with councillors being friendly with directors, but if it gets to the stage you have to declare an interest, aren’t councillors (who are supposed to be scrutinising officers) too close to those the public expects them to scrutinise? Is anyone harshly critical of someone they consider a “friend”?

2) Martin Morton is a sign of something far more worrying in the culture of Wirral Council. A long time ago (November 2009) I left a comment on Cllr Chris Blakeley’s blog about bullying going on within groups of councillors at Wirral Council.

People of course remember Cllr. Knowles (in nearby Seacombe) leaving the Labour Group to join the Conservatives as well as other things that went on. My own councillor and Labour’s candidate Harry Smith was suspended for a week for what he said to some of the younger Conservative councillors at a public meeting.

He still is seen against the wall heckling and jeering at council meetings.

The problem has been is that some of the more senior officers at Wirral Council took on board the political culture of the Labour Group. Yet I feel sorry for Wirral Council employees forced into doing illegal and unethical things by councillors threatening them with the sack.

Yet with “jobs for life” and the public kept in the dark about what does go on, is there any reward for good behaviour by councillors? Will Labour apologise to Martin Morton? Considering it took a public inquiry to get a public apology regarding the library closure plans I’m not holding my breath on that one…

3) I’ve no idea to that one, other than to say they didn’t consult me!

4) People on the doorstep (whose budgets are stretched) have been telling me how they appreciate the Council Tax Freeze. Labour may say it’s “a gimmick” but if you look at Labour-run local authorities like Merseyside Police Authority Labour got millions in a Council Tax Freeze grant yet slashed the number of police officers.

Personally I feel Labour always want more money (and as a result increase our taxes, tunnel tolls etc), but yet don’t understand how to get value for money (when they seem to just want to get more jobs for their public sector union chums).

5) I don’t think libraries is a vote winner for Labour based on what happened. 😀 In Bidston & St. James many places (library, leisure centre, community centres etc) faced the axe and were voted to close by its local Labour councillors.

6) Labour in Liverpool funded an increase to the Labour leader’s allowance and a “jolly jaunt” to China by axing free swimming. Which of these benefits people more?

7) Allowances are an interesting issue Cllr Green as even those of us with qualifications in mathematics and a background in accounting and journalism couldn’t tell you before these elections exactly how much each councillor gets paid (including the amounts on outside bodies).

The system of allowances is basically subsidy of political parties by the taxpayer (in addition taxpayers money such as Short money, Cranbourne money going to the political parties etc). Labour also get amounts from the taxpayer from the public sector unions.

Course there are radical ways this could be changed:-

a) like MPs, publish details of all councillors expenses, allowances etc down to each invoice. This would save the public money as they’d be less likely to claim for frivolities. Until this is done the assumption by the public is that “they’re all on the “fiddle”.

b) in addition to the above details of tax and NI paid.

c) Cabinet Member’s allowances should be not a set amount each year but reflect the workload of each Cabinet member. For example an amount for each meeting they attend on Council business etc. Also there needs to be a system of deputies for Cabinet as a bug going round Wirral Council have been known to lead to half the Cabinet turning up to meetings.

d) Details each year (by each political group on Wirral Council) of what they spent the money they got from councillor’s donations on. Some of this goes on the elections, but shouldn’t the public get to know what their money is being spent on?

e) Each leader (Lib Dem, Labour, Tory) gets a secretary, each political group a research assistant. Should the public at least know who these people (paid for by the taxpayers) are? After all its six full-time salaries paid for by Wirral taxpayers, whose job at times seems to be to do the work councillors don’t want to do.

f) Have the above information published on a page where the Wirral public gets to leave comments as to whether the above is value for money and ways to improve things

8) Thank you for making less exempt, however most exempt reports of public interest have been leaked to the press. When you read the exempt ones, you often find the reasons officers are spurious. Mind you Wirral Council usually leaks like a sieve. The information on expenditure over £500 is useful, yet there needs to be a way for the public to feed back information and questions regarding this.

9) Liscard & Cllr Dodd & the bone of contention in this election between yourselves and Labour. Perhaps as a Lib Dem I will stand on the sidelines on this one. I realise it is hard at times to understand, but each party has a different strategy to winning elections.

Lib Dems – Focus leaflet/s detailing what Lib Dems have done locally. Explaining its a “two horse race”. Asking third party supporters to vote for them. Criticising the other two parties (mainly Labour).
Tories – Newsline leaflet/s detailing what Tories have done locally. Asking third party supporters to vote for them. Criticising the other two parties (but mainly Labour)
Labour – Take credit for Tory and Lib Dem policies. Criticise the policies of whatever party challenges them. Try and make Labour look different from the Tory and Lib Dem parties by saying how wonderful Labour is. Manipulate and bamboozle the voting public into not knowing really what the election is (many people in Bidston & St. James think they are voting Labour tomorrow to as they put it “get rid” of the Coalition government nationally despite there not being a General Election) about but as their former Labour MP Phil Woolas would put it “make the white folk angry” (with the Tories and the Lib Dems). Spread a few scare stories in the mix about people losing their benefits and other such things and you have a recipe for Labour success without telling anyone what you really stand for. Do the above well and if any party is within spitting distance of taking your seat you should see a 10% drop in support for the second place candidate and a boost to your own votes. Congratulations you are now elected a Labour councillor. Nobody who voted for you knows what your plans are so you can’t be accused of breaking any pledges or promises!

If you “bent” a few election laws along the way (eg spent more on the campaign than you’re allowed, left out an imprint or three), 99% of the time you’ll get away with it. Even if you do get taken to court and convicted, another party member will happily get reelected in your place.

10) This was discussed at the Area Forum last year. From what I recall Cllr Foulkes had concerns (as did I) over potential conflicts of interest between the people writing the report for Cabinet (as a result of the consultation) and no mechanism for such conflicts of interest to be declared.

Personally (although Labour can speak for themselves), I don’t think the Labour party is against the public sharing their views, just they’d rather the public share their views with Labour councillors rather than Lib Dem or Tory ones. Some members of the public bring up the same thing with all parties.

11) I’ve no idea, although last time this was discussed what at the Area Forum for Birkenhead over the SAR (closure of libraries etc). Cllr Foulkes made a comment about “Chiefs and Indians” which my wife took offence to as she was born on a reservation in Canada. From memory he said at the time (along with a lot of other things that didn’t go down well) that the Audit Commission would be highly critical of them if they got the balance between managers and staff incorrect.

Personally my own view is that with leadership from councillors the need for many managers is less. Labour tended to rely on officer support more when they were in charge of Wirral Council.

John Brace
Bidston & St. James candidate


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