Brexitometer highlights anti-Brexit sentiment in Elmbridge

Monica Harding, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Esher & Walton, together with her campaign team are hitting the streets of Elmbridge and asking residents about their Brexit concerns – using Brexitometer. In it locals are invited to give their view on five Brexit-related questions, by placing star stickers in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ boxes. So far this street action has taken place in Walton and Claygate. Esher, Cobham, Molesey, Thames Ditton and Long Ditton are next in line.
There is no doubt about how Elmbridge residents are responding to Brexit – it is not going well, it is bad for our future, it will hurt NHS and economy. Mr Raab also gets a thumbs down when it comes to his role in the process. So no wonder a large majority of residents demand a People’s Vote.

If you’d like to hear more about Brexitometer or talk with Monica about your concerns, get in touch by emailing her – monica_harding@hotmail.com – or call her on 07799 704816.

 

Give Us your Views

As the Liberal Democrat/Residents’ administration in Elmbridge, we want to be more informed about your priorities.   One of the current methods of consultation involves a residents panel; although often additional consultations take place.  However, the mix of responses do not match the population as a whole.

Recent consultations have shown that the older the person, the more likely they are going to give their views.  For example, there were no responses from people under 25 and even people aged 26-44 years old were half as likely than the general population to state their preferences. Retired people are five times as likely to make their views plain than the average person: that’s 600% higher.  Older people are ten times as likely to speak up than younger people. This gap is likely to affect policy outcomes.

Age Population Responses Propensity to respond
 <25 29% 0% 0
26-44 36% 15% 0.4
45-64 25% 34% 1.4
65-74 8% 36% 5
>75 8% 14% 2

To get your view heard more clearly register for the borough’s residents’ panel here.  There are 136,000 people living in Elmbridge but only 1,240 are members of the panel.

You can also register to get information from the borough on a regular basis, see your accounts, be notified of palling applications in your area and automatic notice of changes to your refuse collection.

More services will be added later.

Be informed

As you know, the Liberal Democrats are very keen to present people with information that they want, when they want it, and in the form that they want it – text, email or app.  To that end, since forming the coalition in the borough we have given communications a boost of the borough’s priorities.  We already have “My neighborhood” on the website but now we have “My account” for emails – register now.

“My Account”
You can also register to get information from the borough on a regular basis, see your accounts, be notified of planning applications in your area and automatic notice of changes to your refuse collection.  More services will be added as soon as we can.

Local Information in “My neighbourhood”
Currently you have to go the borough’s website for this information but it is worth it. As we develop the “My account” residents’ portal you will be able to select the notifications that you want.

Is Question Time Intentionally Biased?

Many people complain about the political mix on the BBC’s panel shows; Question Time and Any Questions.  Indeed, it is difficult to understand the basis upon which the panelists are chosen.  I think it would serve the BBC to be open in relation to its selection methodology.

The BBC not only fails to convince that its mix between parties is fair but, in my view, it falls into the trap of being Westminster centric.  This failure over the decades has been a contributing factor in the Brexit result.  The reason is that they both overwhelmingly concentrate on one level of government.  We have four levels of government in this country (I’ll put parishes to one side because they are usually considered non-party political): Europe; Britain; upper local tier; and, lower local tier.  Each week AQ and QT should have one person from each of these tiers.  As QT has five members on its panel it can have a wild card as well.

One might think that by having a specific formula for the panelists the vigour would go out of the debate.  Far from it.  I think that reverse would be true.  There would be a welcome injection of fresh perspectives.  There are around 30,000 politicians in Britain and for each place in the panel there would be a variety of people to chose from.  The methodology below would simply provide a group of people for each panelist chair from which the producers could still choose a specific range of people to add sparkle and energy to the debate.  However, the overall mix would reflect the realty of politics today.

Instead of Westminster politicians having the virtual monopoly to lambaste Europe or local government, representatives from the European parliament and local government could counter these often monochrome arguments.

For many people, the outcome of the Brexit vote was caused by Westminster MPs blaming Europe when an informed Martian knows that most of the problems that concerned leave and remain voters alike (NHS, school places, housing, jobs, immigration) were caused by the British government and not by the Scottish parliament, the European parliament or local government.  Yet for decades AQ and QT has not challenged the Westminster monopoly.

My method of choosing panelists would be as follows.

Politicians.  All panelists on QT and AQ should be politicians.  Pundits are interesting but they have not been elected.  They have not been in the position of having to make difficult – sometimes nigh-impossible – choices between options.  Often with little time and insufficient information.

Gender.  Always two women and two men.  In extenuating times the balance could be different but then it should corrected as soon as possible.

Heritage.  The panel should reflect the self-styled make-up of the country.  How people describe themselves ethnically.  Preferably avoiding the catchall word “British” if possible in the categorization.  According to the latest ONS figures, out of every hundred guests: 73 would be English; 7 Scottish; 4 Welsh; 2 Northern Irish (split); 2 Indian; 2 Pakistani; 2 African; 4 other European; and, 4 other world and mixed.

First Panelist – Europe.  This person should be a member of the European parliament and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election.  Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 32 should come from the Peoples Party; 27 from the Labour party;  10 from the Conservative party; 10 from the Liberal Democrat party; 8 from the Left party; 8 from the Green party; and, 7 from UKIP.   The interesting aspect of this particular member of the panel is that although the People’s party is the most numerous party in the European Parliament it does not have a single MEP in Britain.  They could provide a very interesting perspective in upcoming debates.

Second Panelist – Britain.  This person should be a member of the British parliament (either house) and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election. Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 37 should come from the Conservative Party; 30 from the Labour party; 13 from UKIP; 8 from the Liberal Democrat party; 5 from the SNP; 4 from the Green party; and, 3 from others.

Third Panelist – upper local tier.  This chair of the panel would be chosen from the Scottish parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies and English counties.  I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect there would be fewer UKIPers and more Liberal Democrats and independents.

Fourth Panelist – lower local tier.  This chair of the panel would be chosen from the districts and unitaries across Britain.  Again, I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect it would be similar to the upper tier with proportionally more independents.

Other characterizations.  It is possible to extend these descriptors to cater for age, orientation, faith and disability etc.

Allocation. You might think that with 30,000 politicians in the pool for the two shows the job of allocation would be difficult.  Getting the data into the system is relatively easy. Writing the computer programme to suggest members for each chair would be a simple task for most programmers.  The programme would automatically suggest, say, twenty people for each chair and the producer would select those that would make for the best programme.

I think that rating for the programmes would increase – at the very least, I would begin to watch QT again.

Protecting the Green Belt – Building more Homes

Why is Elmbridge Reviewing the Green Belt?

The answer is simple – the national government has changed planning law and Elmbridge has to respond to the various changes.

This costs money and effort which could otherwise be used to improve or extend services or reduce council tax for the people of Elmbridge but unlike like the British government, under our unwritten constitution, Elmbridge is not sovereign so we have to comply with the wishes of the unrepresentative Westminster government (supported by only 37% of the popular vote).  Ultimately, its army is bigger than ours.

New National Planning Laws
In 2012 the national government introduced a radical change in planning law called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  It replaced all previous laws, rules and regulations relating to planning in England.  This caused upset across the planning profession and local government too.  There was a distinct possibility that over sixty years of planning practice would be comprehensively trashed.  As problems with the NPPF were exposed, the national government introduced explanatory guidelines for local government to explain its thinking.  This process could not happen overnight.  In fact, it continues through to today and the national government has indicated that more changes are on the way.

How does that affect Elmbridge?
In 2012, it became possible that developers could apply for planning permission and if Elmbridge refused planning permission the developer could win on appeal because the national government’s planning inspectors would use the new NPPF as the basis of their decision not Elmbridge’ policies.

Elmbridge Responds
As the dust settled, Elmbridge quickly reviewed all of its own adopted planning policies and associated documents to ensure that they complied with the new laws.  Some of Elmbridge’s planning policies only came into force a few months before the publication of the NPPF and were considered compliant with the new NPPF.  Where there was doubt about whether Elmbridge policies were complaint with the NPPF the process of change was put in place.  For the moment, Elmbridge’s Green Belt policy was considered safe.  Despite this, all Elmbridge policies adopted before the NPPF were reviewed on a regular basis to check their compliance.  Not least because the national government was continually introducing new guidances and rules.

Elmbridge’s Housing Requirements
There are many things that the British government requires Elmbridge to do before the borough can set its own plan for Elmbridge.  One of these is an assessment of the need for housing in Elmbridge – both in terms of the number of new houses (or flats) and their size.  In requiring Elmbridge to assess its housing need, the national government did not say how it should be done or what should be considered but it did require that Elmbridge was objective in its assessing housing need (OAN).  Nevertheless, Elmbridge must produce a figure for the number of new homes required by 2035.  Elmbridge has published its Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the independently derived figure is 9,450 new homes – about the same number of households currently in Weybridge.  This new figure is over twice the number produced by Elmbridge’s previous SHMA.  The borough’s current local plan does not cater for such a large increase in houses in Elmbridge – a new local plan is required.

More housing changes ahead
Although originally the national government allowed local government to provide their objectively assessed housing need using their own methodology, it now states that there must be one nationally set method for assessing need.  When the national government introduces this new method sometime in the future (date unknown) Elmbridge will have to undertake a new OAN.  This could mean that our current figure of 9,450 new households could be substantially increased (or it could fall but that is less likely).

What would happen if the borough did nothing?
It is very likely that many, if not all, of Elmbridge’s planning decisions will be overturned by the national government.  For example, the recent planning application 2016/2217 for a development of over 1,000 houses, known as Drake Park, between Walton and Molesey, on a large area of green belt.  This was robustly refused by the borough at a meeting on 21 November 2016.  It is likely that the developers will take this to appeal, and one of the main reasons the borough’s decision might be upheld is because we are preparing a revised local plan.

If we do nothing, the national government will declare Elmbridge’s current local plan policies non-compliant with the NPPF and take over planning decisions, which would mean a free-for-all for developers.  As a result (and this has already happened in some areas of the country), all refusals by Elmbridge borough of planning permission, when taken to appeal, would almost inevitably be allowed by the national government’s planning inspectorate.

Furthermore, in those circumstances the costs will almost inevitably have to be borne by Elmbridge local tax payers by means of higher council tax and/or reduced services.  Such applications would be judged only against the NPPF without any reference to any local planning policies or guidelines.  If the borough develops a revised local plan there will be particular local policies which would have to be applied in addition to those in the NPPF.  That is what the current Strategic Options Local Plan consultation is all about.

What is Green Belt?
Many people think that the Green Belt is countryside and the countryside is Green Belt.  Nationally, most of the countryside is not designated Green Belt and in Elmbridge we have many buildings in the Green Belt: offices, houses, schools, colleges, oil depots, sport halls, shops, stations, hotels and more.  Much of the Green Belt is private and the average person may not walk in it or even see it at a distance.

Much of Elmbridge’s countryside is already protected by planning law: sites of special scientific interest, sites of nature conservation importance, conservation areas, local nature reserves, strategic views, ancient woodlands, flood plains, areas of special historic interest and Whiteley protection among other protections.  Often these create greater protection than Green Belt.

But for Elmbridge Green Belt is very important.  Its main function is to stop the coalescence of our towns.  In this regard, it has mainly succeeded.  There are fourteen possible coalescence corridors within Elmbridge – the perceived experience of leaving a town entering the countryside and entering the neighbouring town:  five are well protected, six are reasonably protected (but could be better) and three have no countryside between them (Weybridge-Walton, Walton-Hersham and Ditton-Molesey).  Externally, Ditton has no countryside between it and Surbiton.

In the south of the borough the Green Belt has another role: that of giving a sense of open country – although this is not specifically mentioned in the NPPF.

How do we plan for this number of new houses?
More than half of Elmbridge is covered by Green Belt and as we know, most of the rest of the area has been increasingly urbanised, many would say to capacity.  About 3,500 houses could be probably be built on sites which are known about or allowed for (that is, sites which have been identified by developers and interested parties, allowance for ‘windfall’ sites, backland development etc).  That leaves a shortfall of around 6,000 (the same number incidentally as the ‘affordable’ or social housing which is needed within the borough).  Where are we going to find the space for all these houses?

If we leave the Green Belt entirely untouched we will have to consider more intensive development in existing urban areas, for example, replicating what is going to happen in Kingston and other parts of London, and building upwards.  Are we happy to have multi-storey blocks of flats in our towns, thus altering the character of our area while we leave land designated Green Belt (some of which may not be particularly attractive) untouched?  The additional houses will have to go somewhere.  The borough is required by the national government to review and consider the Green Belt when updating the local plan to take account of the increased assessed housing need.

On the other hand, we could cater for the extra 6,000 households until 2035 by building sixteen town centre housing developments similar in size to the Heart in Walton: two in each of the borough’s towns and one each in Claygate and Oxshott.  In this case, no Green Belt will be touched and, physically, 95% of the borough would remain no different but there will be infrastructure consequences whatever we do.

Elmbridge’s Green Belt Consultation
The national government’s view on housing assessments.
National Policy on the Green Belt

Gerrymandering

This morning’s discussion at the Cafe One in Baker Street could not help but include the recent inauguration of the American President.

I was surprised, perhaps I should not have been, how unaware British people appear to be regarding the nature of American democracy.  Unlike in Europe, elections in America are often heavily manipulated.  In Europe, where most states have proportional representation, manipulation is almost impossible.  In England, unlike the rest of Britain, we almost exclusively use the first-past-the-post election method and so manipulation is possible but guarded against by the use of an arms-length boundary commission.   Not so in America. The lower house of the America parliament has constituencies and each one elects one member.  To protect the incumbent the political parties change the make-up of the electorate.  If a neighbourhood votes the “wrong” way it is excluded from the constituency and if it votes the “right” way it is included. Over time this produces constituencies with bizarre shapes. The example below. Illinois district 4, shows a constituency that almost entirely surrounds another one.

In some American states the situation is so bad that the state could not pass the basic democratic conditions required to join the European Union.  North Carolina below.

This gerrymandering does not affect the election of the America President.  However, other methods are used instead.  Collectively they are know as voter suppression.  The main types of voter suppression are:

  • Spurious removal of voters from the electoral role
  • Unequal spread of polling stations – poorer areas have fewer stations
  • Misinformation for postal voting – making voters miss deadlines
  • Unequal polling station opening times
  • Unequal voter identification techniques – requiring a driving licence
  • Banning convicted criminals for life
  • Arduous voting registration requirements

Elmbridge staff put a great effort in trying to get people on to the electoral role.  In America there are many organisations that help people to get registered.  However, some American organisations do their best to make sure people never get registered or once there try and remove them.

Some American academics have suggested that the total effect of voter suppression in the recent presidential election was sufficient to change the result in the electoral college.

Tribute to ex-councillor Jimmy Cartwright

Ex-councillor Jimmy Cartwright died on Monday 25 July in East Whittering. Representing the Claygate ward he served many years as Liberal Democrat councillor for Elmbridge borough until 2013, when he retired at the age of 81 and moved to West Sussex. As a tribute to Jimmy we re-publish an interview with him and his wife Audrey from the April 2013 issue of Focus.

Jimmy Cartwright resigns from Elmbridge Council – by-election in May 2013

A long-serving Claygate Councillor Jimmy Cartwright has decided to ‘retire from active service’ at the mature age of 81. He has resigned from Elmbridge Borough Council and
this triggered a by-election as his term runs into 2014. The Liberal Democrats have selected Mary Marshall of Holroyd Road, Claygate as their candidate in the forthcoming May elections, hoping to hold on to the seat vacated by Jimmy.

The Focus team visited Jimmy and his wife Audrey as they prepare to re-locate to their new home in West Sussex. Copious cups of tea and delicious cakes inspired a memory-laden fire-side chat with the cheerful couple.

There was a time when Jimmy Cartwright, as the local area manager for Wall’s, used to witness his salesman pick up orders for meat pies, pasties, bacon and pork sausages from eleven (yes you heard right!) different grocery stores in Claygate. Well into the 60‘s the village was still a haven for small stores littered around the village and where people were served over the counter. “Social life and meeting your neighbours in those days revolved around getting your daily shop locally, that’s how important news were exchanged and village affairs were discussed”, Jimmy comments.

“There were no refrigerators either so the stock turnover had to be swift” says Jimmy when looking back at his long and happy career with food manufacturers, and at the different pace of life in the village. Jimmy’s patch as Wall’s area manager was Surrey, but his home base was in Claygate. And so it has remained to this day. In the intervening years Jimmy has witnessed the growth of Claygate into a ‘small town with a friendly village atmosphere’ and a total transformation of grocery retailing.

With his sales experience and the knowledge of the local commercial scene, it was no wonder that in later life Jimmy got involved in running village affairs in the Parish Council. But before retiring fully Jimmy also served a number of years as a bursar in a Molesey school. “I wasn’t ready to rest on my laurels after a busy and rewarding career in a sales role, so I decided to apply for this position in a school. It got me involved in the community from the educational side.”

One thing rapidly followed another and Jimmy was elected a Liberal Democrat Councillor in 2002, representing the Claygate ward in Elmbridge Borough Council. “It’s been very rewarding and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Speaking on behalf of your community is really more about being an alert and active neighbour than politics as such. After all these years you get to know the people in the village and they know you, so serving as a councillor comes naturally.”

Jimmy’s father ran a grocery business in Kingston, which had an influence on his later career choice. But it was Audrey, his future wife, who drew young Jimmy’s attentions to Claygate. Her family lived in Hare Lane and Audrey’s responsibilities in the family home included mucking out in the stables with 15 beautiful horses. “We had a riding school and I had my very own Lad, a handsome thoroughbred stallion. I think Jimmy first fell in love seeing me mount Lad and looking the part,” Audrey giggles.

The young couple move to their first home together in Meadow Road and subsequently to Rosehill, but later took up residence at Audrey’s family home in Hare Lane where they have remained ever since. “This has been our ‘happy castle‘ for many years and we’ve enjoyed being in the centre of action in the village. The horses have long since gone, but wonderful memories remain,” tells Audrey.

A while ago Jimmy and Audrey decided that in their senior years it was time to embark on ‘a project to explore the world‘. So they started looking for a new home in West Sussex, by the sea. They eventually found just the ideal one in East Whittering, near where Jimmy’s younger brother already lives. Although Jimmy still had a year left of his term as a councillor, he decided that now is the right time to move and handed in his resignation to Elmbridge Council.

“As a councillor I have always believed that the best way to get things done is to talk quietly and personally with everybody – including those who opposed my ideas or perspective on things. Grandstanding or aggression was never for me,” Jimmy analyses his approach in Council work.

Never you tell ’em a lie!

BabyThe English have not been listened to for too long and eventually they lashed out. Unfortunately, in this referendum, they threw the baby out with the bath water.  Or more exactly, they have thrown the baby out but have ended up with the bathwater still in the bath.

Understandably, many on our island feel unconnected to the decision making around them and that they have been ignored by “those in power”.  In my view, the problem lay much more with the government of Britain rather than of Europe.  Mainly, but not exclusively, because Westminster MPs often use “Europe” to blame for unpopular or unwise decisions at home.  Treat people badly for long enough and they will rise up.

It reminds me of a poem that my father read to me when I was a kid and I, in turn, read to my children.

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”

We live in interesting times.

United in diversity

european-union-flag-1024x7681Just as Britain has its motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Evil to him who evil thinks), Europe too has a motto, first used in 2000, “United in diversity”. This sums up perfectly how the European Union unites all our different cultures, traditions and languages.

When one sits in the chamber of the lower house of the European parliament with representatives from 28 different states one fully appreciates how much our forebears achieved bringing us together to work for peace and prosperity.

United in diversity sums all of this up – see it translated into each language here.