My Worries About The Future Of the City

Why I worry that the City may suffer for a long time as a result of the
election results last week

Well the elections are all over now and the new council team are firmly in
place. We’re hearing the traditional post-election fine words about a
better tomorrow, everbody pulling together, a team that is second to none
etc etc.

I do wish Mohammed Pervez and his Labour cabinet well. They have a lot of
tough choices to make and they’re going to find it difficult when the
reality starts to bite. Blaming the Westminster coalition of Mr Cameron
may have got Labour through the short-term local elections, but it will
simply not be good enough as a long term strategy when they are having to
vote for service cuts and tax rises over the coming months and years.

So we’re all well aware of the crisis that the city faces financially,
culturally and politically and we are going to be talking a lot about that
in the future. But the city now faces a longer-term crisis because of the
election results the other week that most people probably will not even
pick up on until it is too late. I am talking about nothing less than a
crisis of our local democracy.

Because of the decisions the electorate made the other week, councillors
of vast experience were ejected from office from all parties. The
rottweilers who would have held this Labour council to account have almost
all gone. We have the most inexperienced council of our lifetimes.

In most cases, the electorate did not consider for a single moment
candidates experience, performance or suitability for the job. Councillors
were ejected whether they were good, bad or indifferent. It made very
little difference if you had spent the last 4 years working the ward and
knocking on doors, or whether you sat on your backside in the town hall
all day and never spoke to a single voter. The single consideration it
seems that the electorate made was whether the candidates were Labour or
not Labour, and then they put their cross unthinkingly in the Labour box.
It was of course very frustrating and dissapointing…unless you were
Labour.

But now we have a problem. Roll on four years time (with a general
election most probably on the same day, and you only have to look back to
2010 to see how Labour will sweep the board in that case) and things start
to look very bad for organised opposition to Labour in the City of
Stoke-on-Trent. Without a single councillor to fly their flag, the Lib
Dems will not be back on the council any time soon and with no local
elections now for four years, there will be little incentive for any party
to keep their campaign machine busy.

As a longtime Conservative activist, I know what state the local party was
already in before these elections. With no reason to keep their
campaigners and activists busy-and with Cllr Abi Brown (who has
revolutionised local campaigning) due to step down as Chairman of the
local party early next year-I really do worry that we may be witnessing
the end of that local party in any meaningful sense outside of perhaps
Trentham and Meir Park. The local party has come to rely heavily on
student campaigners in recent years (based at Keele), and most of these
will now begin to gravitate away from Stoke politics naturally (remember
that Newcastle will continue to hold annual elections and much of the Tory
campaign focus will now shift there).

And the older, more battle-hardened activists may go the same way. Former
councillors Clive Brian and Ross Irving will in all probability not stand
for office again. John Daniels, disillusioned with Stoke, has decided to
leave the city (and I can’t honestly blame him). Is Hazel Lyth and Joanne
Powell-Beckett really going to hang around for the next four years
attending pointless local party meetings and working for the party until
the next local election (again, and I can’t emphasise this enough,
probably on the same day as a general election!).

Will the Lib Dems-now without a single seat on the council-really be back
so soon? Will the various Independents who have had their fingers burnt by
the electorate and now feeling dejected and demoralised see any reason to
carry on in local politics? The BNP will always be there of course, but
one feels that their heyday has passed for the time being. Now facing a
decade in the wilderness, I doubt they will be able to muster much by way
of campaigning in the years to come.

ALL parties and none (bar Labour) suffered at the hands of the electorate.
All are now broken and demoralised. It will not be an easy path back for
any of them. I doubt many will be able to field as many candidates in four
years time as they did this year. So what does that leave us? An all
powerful Labour Party, the most inexperienced in history facing the
greatest challenges in our history. A Labour Party with absolute power.
Only a token opposition in the town hall and barely none outside it.

The lack of opposition means very little so close to Labour’s fantastic
victory. But as the years go by, as the cuts start to bite, as mistakes
are made, as the shine starts to go from this Labour council people will
start to ask why there isn’t any opposition. And when the next local
elections come round and people find they have no credible opposition
candidates in most of the wards, people will be asking why. And in a
decade, two decades and three decades when people start to ask where the
opposition to Labour is…answer there will come back none.

This is what the electorate have chosen. This is the City they have
created. If you think that Labour holds all the answers and never makes
any mistakes, then there is no problem. But if like me you think that some
form of opposition scrutiny is important-however good the government might
be-then I urge you to be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Shaun Bennett BA(Hons),MA
Defeated Independent candidate, Hollybush and Longton West

500 Words From Shaun Bennett

I have the honour and the privilege of being able to stand as the
Independent candidate for my own home ward of Hollybush and Longton West.

I have lived in Hollybush for the past 20 years. My friends and family
live in and around the ward, and for the past six years I have also worked
in the ward. So I have such a lot of personal interest invested in this
ward. I understand the problems that local people face because they affect
me too. Some other candidates have tried to get people to believe that
they live in the Hollybush area when they do not. But both the Labour and
Tory candidates live as far away as Weston Coyney. We need someone living
‘above the shop’, in the local community, listening to local people and
who is just around the corner when people need them.

Whilst the Labour candidate has relied upon nationally drawn up leaflets
printed outside the city and not talking about the local community at all,
I have being focussing on local issues and local people. For example,
buses are a big issue in the ward and I have pledged to work to restore
the number 40 Copelands bus to the Hollybush estate which local pensioners
have relied upon for the past 12 years. Parking is another big
issue-residents bays in Hollybush were planned incorrectly by the Labour
controlled City council and encourage double parking so that emergency
vehicles and buses cannot get full access to the estate. Housing and
anti-social behaviour are other big priorities for the ward and I will
always work to ensure that the system is on the side of the ordinary
decent citizen rather than the ‘neighbours from hell’ or the hooligan on
the street corner.

500 words is nowhere near enough to present a full plan for the ward and
the problems that we face. I shall therefore end by saying that as well as
the local issues I have spoken about above I believe that it is time for a
complete new broom in our town hall. We must work harder to encourage
business and investment into the city. We are ideally placed
geographically for business and of course we now need to be designated as
an enterprise zone to prevent investment from slipping away. I want a
reversal in the ever increasing city parking charges-including the
restoration of free evening and Sunday parking-to bring more shoppers into
the city. And I want to work towards actually being able to REDUCE the tax
burden on the overtaxed residents of the city.

Under Labour, we have paid some of the highest taxes for some of the worst
services in the country. But other authorities have shown that you CAN
reduce the tax burden whilst also getting better value and more efficient
local services. Its time for Stoke-on-Trent to change and reform the way
in which we do business. Its time for a common-sense revolution in the
town hall.

Shaun Bennett
Independent Candidate, Hollybush and Longton West