Reading the various accounts of Boris Johnson’s shockingly poor approach to his day-jobs reminded me of the few times that I’ve met him. Most of those times have been fairly incidental, when he came to formally open the London Overground at Clapham Junction, for example, or ground-breaking some bland, identikit development at Nine Elms. The one time I had anything approaching a policy discussion was during his first London Mayoral campaign.

The Johnson campaign were having discussions with people from the London boroughs and, being Wandsworth’s turn, a group of us made the short trip to County Hall where the campaign had its offices. One of the first topics of discussion was the idea of having 24-hour Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams (or SNTs).

At the time, SNTs and neighbourhood policing were very much in vogue but a common complaint, mainly from people like councillors rather than actual residents, was that the SNTs weren’t always immediately available. It seems to have been particularly upsetting when they were off duty for a few days (perish the thought they have the equivalent of a weekend). This was largely down to a misunderstanding of what SNTs were meant to do. Neighbourhood Policing should be longer-term, building relationships and problem solving and not responding immediately to issues which is the function of, funnily enough, response policing.

Johnson was enthused by the idea of 24-hour Safer Neighbourhood Teams. They had been trialled by Hammersmith and Fulham Council (at that stage in its brief period of Conservative control) who were funding round-the-clock teams in two areas. I’d actually visited them and found the scheme under-whelming. It was expensive and without any robust evaluation of effectiveness but had strong political support which was evidenced, perhaps, by the lack of any exit strategy. An exit strategy wouldn’t be needed, I was told, because they would be successful. I was unconvinced.

Johnson, however, had no doubt they would be a fantastic success. I presented the alternative view that it would be an expensive white elephant. For around the clock coverage you’d increase the SNT wage bill by three or four times to satisfy a need that simply wasn’t there. London, outside the centre, is not really a 24-hour city and people, including criminals, tended to sleep at night. Realistically no-one needing the police at 5am would dream of looking up their SNT number rather than dialling 999. And if there were a few places that a middle-of-the-night problem was suited to SNT intervention SNTs would change shift patterns to match.

I did not persuade him. Johnson suggested that SNTs could be grouped to cover off-peak policing more cost-effectively. That this was in essence just replicating the sectors in which response policing was already organised was an irrelevant operational detail. His new area-based SNT-response team would, in some nuanced way, be different to the existing area-based non-SNT-response teams. Johnson voiced his opinion that 24-hour SNT policing would be hugely popular and the discussion moved into some other policy area.

Ultimately the idea did not make Johnson’s election manifesto. I don’t think that discussion had anything to do with that. While possible it prompted him to give the idea the few moment’s thought it would take to realise it was unworkable I think it more likely some advisor managed to quietly sideline the idea. Throughout his time at City Hall there was the fiction that it was a mark of his leadership qualities that he appointed high-quality staff to do the work. It seems more and more people are interpreting that less as a leadership quality as more as a reflection of his laziness and lack of ability.

The fact he’s anywhere near becoming Prime Minister should be terrifying. Especially when his likely Cabinet would surely be one of the lowest calibre the country has ever seen. That he’s somehow the favourite among the small, unrepresentative, Conservative party membership is just more evidence that our political system is broken and utterly unsuitable for the 21st century.

I am proud to be standing for Renew in the Wandsworth council elections in May. I had spent a long time quite happy as an independent with no intention of standing as a candidate, of any type, for some time. So what changed?

Becoming independent

Leaving the Conservatives was a long time coming for me. I felt the Conservatives had ceased representing me both locally and nationally, and on Wandsworth they were feeling increasingly tired: interested only in control and lacking any positive vision for the borough.

I have enjoyed being an independent councillor and feel I make a difference (much bigger than I ever could as Conservative). But that was limited.

While I enjoyed the freedom to, say, help Tooting parkrun get started or advise the Save Battersea Park group in getting rid of Formula E it was a pretence to say I was alone. I was able to help because I was an independent, free from the shackles of party control (although I had been surreptitiously helping both, even while in the Conservative group), the fact is that those campaign’s successes only came about because everyone involved was part of something larger.

Joining Renew

And that brought me to Renew. The choice between the mainstream parties is no choice at all. It would be unimaginable to re-join a Conservative Party that seems to want nothing more than a return to the 1950s, or a Labour Party moving further and further to the left, especially while both are propping up each other’s hard Brexit delusions.

The Liberal Democrats might have some attractions, being at least anti-Brexit. But it’s hard to see how they can have any impact: tainted by their involvement in the coalition and led by Vince Cable they are simply not the right choice for challenge we face.

And that left Renew: an anti-Brexit, centrist party, a home for all those people, like me, who have found themselves politically homeless since the referendum.

What Renew offers Wandsworth

Renew is not looking to control Wandsworth council, it is quite purposefully not putting up a full slate of 60 candidates, but instead offers a compelling opportunity to voters to make their voice heard; to send a message from a 75% remain borough that hard-Brexit is not what we want, and that a choice between two extremist parties is no choice at all.

I have seen the difference that a couple of independently minded, evidence-driven councillors has made. Malcolm Grimston and I were the leading councillors forcing the council to take an aggressive stance in defending the rights of EU citizens while Conservatives were still busy crowing about the referendum result. And Malcolm has led the campaign to stand up for leaseholders being forced to pay thousands for unnecessary sprinklers.

Renew councillors can continue that role; holding whoever controls the council to account, and promoting a centrist view to balance the extremes of either a Conservative or Labour administration.

The council elections are the last scheduled election before the two-year article 50 notice period expires. You will have three votes. If you want to send a message about Brexit to the main parties, and if you want councillors that will represent you and not a few from their extreme fringes, then use one of the three votes for your Renew candidate.

Various polling station signs

Since the election was called I’ve been agonising over which way I should vote. While quitting a party has lots of upsides, it’s actually hard work being a floating voter, especially when we insist on using an atrocious electoral system like first-past-the-post1. I’ve found myself flitting between parties and candidates. A week away from the election, I’m still no nearer a decision.

Battersea is spoilt for choice with candidates this time, with the usual selection of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat joined by Green, UKIP, Socialist and a pro-Remain independent.

Arguably first-past-the-post makes the choice of vote easier, since there’s little prospect, based on the 2015 result, of anyone but Conservatives or Labour winning. Indeed, based on the 2015 result it’s easy to assume it’s a Conservative hold.

Until, that is, the publication of the YouGov election model yesterday and listed Battersea as ‘leaning Labour’. Their model had Labour estimated to get 43% (with a 95% confidence interval of 36-51%) and the Conservatives estimated on 41% (with an interval of 34-47%). It struck me as unlikely, to say the least.

However, it did make question if there was any chance it might be right. I could certainly point to anecdotal evidence it might not be totally outlandish. My own experience (admittedly getting older) was that while the response to the Conservatives on the door was still warm, it never felt quite as effusive as it once did. It was certainly my experience at the time and from observation and gossip since that the local party machinery of the Conservatives—historically quite formidable—was a shadow of its former self and unable to compete with a youthful and energetic Labour party.

The mountain to climb…

The evidence of 2015 was, however, that local campaigns don’t necessary win elections. It was commonly accepted that the Labour party outclassed and outgunned the Conservatives on everything. Everything, that is, except votes in the ballot box. Jane Ellison held the seat with over half the votes cast, 52.4% against Labour’s Will Martindale on 36.8%. For Labour to overturn that it would require a swing of 7.8%.

The only published poll for Battersea, commissioned by the independent candidate, had the Conservatives on 46% and Labour on 38%. The poll was conducted before the recent shift towards Labour in national polling, but still showed Labour some way off the pace.

The YouGov model has a swing towards Labour in its national model, but only 3.5% 1.75%.2 That is arguably suspect, since it goes against the consensus of all the polls published thus far. And it’s hard to see where the other 4% 6% or so of swing is coming from, even if you accept YouGov’s close result.

…and how it could be scaled

A few factors? Labour’s campaigning is getting stronger while the Conservatives are getting weaker. It’s hard to see how this would be reflecting in polls, though, since campaigns are far more about getting people out to vote than changing hearts and minds on the doorstep. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to be a factor in YouGov’s model.

The London bubble, in which Labour somehow seem unaffected by the national unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn (and perhaps buoyed by the regional popularity of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London) may be adding a little to Labour total.

The continued Lib Dem collapse may be playing a part. There were about 5,000 Lib Dem votes ‘lost’ between the 2010 and 2015 election. Again, it’s possible these voters may now be flocking to Labour having abstained or flirted with the Tories.

These may individually get a challenging Labour party a little closer, but the biggest gains, surely would have to come from the EU referendum referendum.

Remain, however, has to be the biggest factor in play. Battersea is a young, international constituency. Wandsworth had one of the biggest remain votes in the country and while constituency results were not declared there was some academic and polling evidence suggesting Battersea was the most pro-remain constituency in the borough. Given that Jane Ellison has long been an ardent pro-European there was understandable disappointment when she failed to represent her constituents and her own beliefs and still voted to trigger article 50.

Can Labour win?

Possibly, but then it’s a theoretical possibility that any candidate could win. Would I share YouGov’s projection? Probably not. They might get a few bits and pieces from some factors, and will probably get a good chunk because of the remain factor (something they are clearly pushing for in their literature). There are definitely many who are angry with Jane Ellison for, as they perceive it, putting her ministerial career before her principals and the national interest. My sense, though, is that many of those would not have been voting Conservative in any case.

So, possible? Yes. But likely, even in YouGov’s nuanced language of ‘leaning’? Probably not: so many things have to stack up it would have to be an outlier.

And my vote? I’m still stuck.

  1. Yes, I once was a supporter of first-past-the-post, but people change and I’m older and wiser.
  2. By my reckoning, I’m only using the very simplistic Butler swing model and not factoring in the potential effects of the smaller parties or independent candidate. I also got this wrong in my initial post, meaning there’s an even bigger mountain for Labour to climb.

I don't like International Women's Day. Not really. And not because I'm misogynist, but because I just think we should have moved on by now. As a species you would have thought we'd have developed enough, educated ourselves enough, that such days were unnecessary.

Of course, we haven't. Inequality persists. And that perhaps gives me another reason to dislike it: a day just seems a bit of a feeble response.

The council meeting last night did, of course, mark International Women's Day. The Labour group put down a motion noting the role of women in local politics historically and today (pdf) but which also noted that woman and minorities are hardest hit by austerity.

Perhaps predictably the Tories responded with an amendment celebrating Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. I often think that's something of a fig-leaf used by the Conservatives. Highlighting only the number of female leaders totally neglects the underlying issues: that there are still disproportionately few women in politics1. I'd argue Labour, as a party, has done far more to address that by all-women shortlists and funded development than the Conservatives who are only slowly catching up on this.

However, that's not to belittle the huge achievement of women who have led parties. So Malcolm Grimston and I proposed and seconded a further amendment that recognised both Thatcher and May, but also all those other woman who have led political parties, including Margaret Beckett and Harriett Harman (who acted as Labour leaders), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davison (Scottish Conservatives), Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Arlene Foster (DUP) and Caroline Lucas (Green Party). I'm sure I've missed some.

While Labour immediately supported this and a few on the Conservative side did likewise (Kathy Tracey was notably early to support) I was shocked, and a little ashamed, at the opposition the motion provoked.

There were suggestions that procedurally the motion was improper. The council leader, Ravi Govindia, was one who felt this way and suggested—in an almost threatening way—that the Mayor "might want to reflect on that", even though it clearly was procedurally fine. There were several members grumpily muttering they would not support the motion and several minutes of confusion passed before a vote was actually taken, with the Conservative group initially keeping their hands down, before realising voting against was indefensible.

Even then, several were visibly repulsed at having to recognise the contribution of non-Conservative women. They'd happily vote to recognise Thatcher and (perhaps a little less happily) May, but it was a vote for their politics and not their gender.

It's debates like that which prove exactly why we do still need International Woman's Day. When a majority of a council (and both men and women among them) are so openly hostile to a simple motion, is it any wonder there isn't a gender balance in our political institutions?

I keep returning to a mantra of how a council should be setting a tone, it should be showing moral leadership. But when I watched it in action last night, needing it's arm twisted to vote for something as straightforward as gender equality, I think we can probably do without moral leadership from that particular crew.

  1. I think it's still Rwanda that has the record for the highest proportion of female legislators, around 60%, although for somewhat tragic reasons and there are some questions about how meaningful that is in a highly patriarchal society.

Wandsworth Council failed to show leadership on the Trump travel ban at the full council. The Labour Party were proposing the council leader and opposition leader should jointly formally state their opposition. This, however, was too much.

Even when the opportunity to show leadership was thrust upon him, the leader was unable to grasp it. Wandsworth does not have a foreign policy we were told. Wandsworth can do nothing about it we were told, petitions about road speeds were more our level. It was an awful, pernicious, measure we were told, but it really isn't our place to do anything about it because every issue under the sun will affect some of our residents and we can't take a stance on everything.

These are arguments against doing anything, to be sure. And they have been used repeatedly throughout the years all over the world. I know the council leader is not in the most secure position and there may be good short-term politics in avoiding a stance some of his members will not support. But this is one of those issues on which the right thing might not be easy—it might not be business as usual—but it should still be done.

Wandsworth doesn't have a foreign policy

It doesn't. The council takes a perverse pride in this. We are happily parochial. Except when we're not. The lack-of-foreign-policy policy is only deployed when convenient for the majority group.

You could equally argue that we don't operate an airline, or that we don't own an airport (a few councils do the latter) but we somehow manage to spend great time and effort on our aviation policy.

We don't manage Clapham Common, but we have plenty to say about how Lambeth manage it.

That is not to say that these are bad things to do, but to highlight that when it chooses the council is perfectly happy to take a strong stance on those things that happen outside its borders.

We can't do anything

This is a stronger argument. What's the point of doing anything when we have no control? The council leader was clear that there are all sorts of things we could take a view on, and say affects our residents, and perhaps hinted that because there were so many it was easiest to do none.

But how seriously do we think our chances in getting the government to back down on Heathrow? Exactly what powers did we think we were going to bring to bear when expressing our support for Wandsworth's EU citizens at the last council meeting?

The fact is that by raising awareness, by hoping to influence decision makers, we do and should take those stances on issues we don't control.

Even in the day-to-day life of the council we constantly adopt positions that seek to influence other partners. We hope to persuade TfL on issues around their roads. We seek to influence the police on their tasking. We try to entice businesses to invest. It is not just uncommon for the council to seek to influence: it's a crucial part of how it works.

We can't take a stance on everything

I wholeheartedly agree. We could debate every single issue endlessly. But sometimes there are issues that are important enough to make an exception. I would contend this is most definitely one.

In some ways I think it's an irrelevance whether or not one, 100 or 10,000 Wandsworth residents are affected. Trump's policy is nasty and dangerous. By discriminating against millions of people purely on the accident of where they were born or because of their choice of faith doesn't make them second class citizens, it potentially makes anyone and everyone a second class citizen: it impoverishes us all and acquiescence is not an option.

Doing something

We can all sit around and say we don't have a foreign policy, or we can't do anything, or it doesn't affect us. But I think we should be better than that. As a council and councillors we have to strike a balance between service and leadership. A big part of leadership, something the current council either can't, or won't, do is creating the narrative for their community. A vision for the future.

While this is absent in Wandsworth, the contrast between Obama and Trump's narratives for their nation and the world could not be clearer. And faced with that it is clear now is not a time for parochialism.

The council may not have power, but it has influence. It can set the tone for residents, highlighting the type of borough and world we value. And it can seek to influence decision makers; directly in the case of local MPs and through them indirectly influence national leaders and diplomats.

Over one and a quarter million people could have said they don't have a foreign policy. They didn't: they signed a petition.

Thousands and thousands of people in towns and cities could have said they can't do anything. They didn't: they attended demonstrations.

But contrast that with a group of Conservative councillors1, in the comfort of their chamber, who were given the chance to do something and show leadership…

They didn't: they sat on their hands.

And that was literally it. Rather than supporting an adjournment that asked the leader to express his opposition to the ban on behalf of the council, they waited 30 seconds and stuck their hands up to vote against instead. You could hardly have asked for less, but still they couldn't give it.

It was a failure of leadership.

  1. With one exception, Jane Dodd voted for the Labour motion and should be commended for that.

Eight years ago I wrote a short post about Barack Obama’s inauguration. It was a banal little thing, with the saving grace that I recognised in it no-one cared about my opinion. It did, however, somewhat foreshadow my growing faith in the institutions and machinery, rather than the personnel, of government.

I’m obviously a snowflake, one of those people with the temerity to believe the world would be a better place if the UK remained in the EU and Donald Trump weren’t inaugurated as President of the United States. Perhaps it’s my curse, but I’m a proud member of the metropolitan élite.

One cannot deny democracy though. 52% of voters disagreed with me on EU membership and the US electoral college took a different view on Donald Trump’s suitability. That is the way things are, however much I and others wish it were different.

Why institutions matter

The EU referendum was a rejection of a huge set of supra-national institutions. There is still a debate on what exactly was rejected. The referendum question was not specific on which institutions:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Just as I voted remain in the knowledge the EU was not perfect, I felt on balance we were better off in. Should we be so naïve as to think that the 52% of leave voters all shared a common purpose of hard Brexit? Of course not. That 52% would have comprised everyone from isolationalists through to the people who were only 51:49 in favour of leaving.

But did anyone seriously think that voting to leave those supra-national institutions did so thinking it meant we were also rejecting national institutions? I suspect nobody thought their vote also meant the Supreme Court would lose jurisdiction? Or that Parliamentary sovereignty was somehow overturned?

It may well be that the brand of Brexit being put forward by Theresa May is exactly what you want and you’d be happy to see it just happen. For the 48% who didn’t want to leave, and for the sizeable number who voted leave but had a different—or simply no—conception of what Brexit actually meant those institutions are there to make sure the decision is made properly and legally, not just on the meaningless soundbite of a prime minister

The best thing about a liberal democracy like ours is not the voting, it’s the rule of law: if you don’t have that, everything else is worthless.

The locker rooms of politics

One of the more depressing elements of the US election was the revelation of Donald Trump’s ‘locker room’ comments. His comments were reprehensible, but we should also fear that he’s entering a world of political locker rooms. Private spaces, defined by power, full of testosterone where everyone will be keen to show their strength and fit in.

To a degree, politics needs these locker rooms. It requires those private spaces in which policy can be safely discussed and ideas floated, and there needs to be a common bond, and sense of togetherness that binds the people in them into a team.

I know from my experience at Wandsworth—a pond of minnows on the world stage, to be sure—that those political locker rooms are full of pitfalls. The lure of groupthink is strong, the need to acknowledge power and define the in-group and the out-group irresistible. Lord Acton observed that power corrupts, he could have added that it doesn’t need that much power for the rot to set in.

I would sit in our private cabinet meetings while people guffawed at comments deriding the ability, intellect, motivations and on one rather shameful occasion the mental illness not just of opponents, but even those we should have called partners.1 The purpose was not (purely) to make derogatory comments, but instead to mituallt assert right and dominance. We do what we do because it is right and because we can.

I’m sure there were others around that table sharing my discomfort, maintaining a shameful silence for some personal reason. The locker room, or perhaps the power, or the secrecy, or the groupthink, changes people. Someone like Donald Trump might be odious anywhere, but that odium incubates and infects in those circumstances.

I worry there will be too many locker rooms in Washington, DC over the next 4 years.

What’s a snowflake to do?

We can, of course, write about our anguish. There have been plenty of blog posts and articles sharing the snowflake angst. Misery loves company so here’s another. You’re welcome.

Or we could retreat to our safe havens. Occasionally looking miserable while chewing a croissant or sipping a Pinot in an outward display of Weltschmerz, but generally taking comfort in being part of the metropolitan elite who probably won’t be the hardest hit by Brexit and knowing that geographical luck has put the whole Atlantic between us and DC. (Retreat is an option I have found very tempting, and still haven’t fully rejected.)

But perhaps the best option is to retain faith. Faith that the national institutions like the courts and parliament will long outlive governments, and throughout it all will make sure that even if we don’t always agree, at least things are done properly. Faith that a long history of judicial independence, but also judicial inventiveness, will always be on hand to ameliorate the most egregious excesses of populist governance.

And faith that continued scrutiny will make sure there are as few political locker rooms as possible. They will never be entirely eliminated, but the more scrutiny there is, the fewer the opportunities there are for terrible decisions to be made in the unquestioning arenas.

We may be humble snowflakes, but collectively there is so much we can do.

  1. To my shame I said nothing. I spent my last few years operating on the basis that it was better to be in and do a little good than out and do no good. I was wrong.

Reporting, again, a pothole on Kingsley Street for repair made me realise what austerity actually means for most people: and it’s not that much.

I’d previously reported it at the beginning of June, but three months later the pothole remains, not massive, but still needing repair. It’s a sharp contrast from the level of response I’d previously had; when a pothole could be fixed in a day.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why the comparison may be unfair and the response times different. The example in 2010 was just before the national and local elections when more effort was put in and I was still in the Conservative group (the post was even copied across to the party website) while in 2015 paperwork may have gone awry or it might just not be seen as big enough.

Fundamentally though, the council just doesn’t have as much money as it once did: 2010 is very different to 2015. It cannot afford the resources to respond rapidly or on the same level as it once did.

But is this that big an issue? Possibly not. It brought to mind the concept of hedonic adaptation, that whatever changes—good or bad—impact on a person, they soon return to about the same level of happiness they experienced before.

I wonder if that is what is happening in the UK: things aren’t as good as they were, but expectations are changing. People will occasionally vaguely recall that things used to be better, but doesn’t everyone believe that the past was a golden age?

Is it really the case that, other than those directly affected because of cuts in public services, the only ones that care or notice are people like me with an unhealthy obsession with reporting street defects? If so, historians and sociologists of the future may well find themselves studying how austerity in the twenty-first century led to little more than an increase in mild swearing when people tripped on uneven pavements.

Ed Miliband is getting lots of stick for his speech, suggesting he’s damning photo ops despite being a culprit. Having read his speech I don’t think that’s what he is doing at all, and even if he were, would he ever have got to his position were he not guilty of an occasional photo opportunity?

Welcoming the 'Welcome to Battersea sign'
Balloons + sign = photo op
They pervade every level of politics. Even in local government, where I’ve found myself having my photo taken with a man in a nappy to posing with balloons and a sign (probably my last photo op ever, since I won’t be in any council ones any more and doubt I’ll be allowed in any party ones either).

He accepts that photo op and soundbite are pervasive. But also argue that there should be more to politics.

The middle of his speech contains the following passage:

so often the terms of trade of politics—the way it is discussed and rated— has become about the manufactured, the polished, the presentational.

Politics is played out as showbiz, a game, who is up and who is down.

Rather than the best chance a lot of people have to change their lives.

That last line, for me, is the killer. Do I think Ed Miliband has the right ideas or politics? No, not really. But do I agree with him on that point? Yes, absolutely.

The silly focus on how photogenic he is (or isn’t), doesn’t belittle him, it belittles politics, which should be about a battle of ideas and how they can be practically applied to improve people’s lives.

I’ve been guilty, I know, of finding fun in Miliband photos. But equally I’ve always believed that politics should be better, and more about ideas. I highlighted the speech by Cllr Jones at the last council meeting which continues to intrigue me, because—I think—it stuck out as a speech that was ultimately about how politics can affect people’s lives and, ultimately, invited disagreement and argument. Too often political speeches seem to be written as if they are the only logical viewpoint, negating the possibility that perfectly sensible people can have opposing opinions.

But politics, those opposing opinions, are why people sit in council chambers or in Parliament. It would be interesting to see if, when the current trolling of Ed Miliband with his past photo ops ends, we might be able to move on and discuss political ideas. I’m confident the nation is intelligent enough, if the media and politicians can rise to that level.

Official notices around a polling station

Today is, technically, the day I start my new term of office as a Wandsworth councillor1.

I begin with a thank-you.

A massive thank-you to everyone who voted to re-elect me as a councillor. But also a thank-you to everyone who voted. I’ve never been so naïve to think I was universally popular, and while I’m pragmatic enough to recognise that I only need to be more popular than the fourth most popular candidate, the electoral process can be as much about a collective expression of will as it is about electing individuals.

Let me get the ego out of the way first. It was enormously flattering to be re-elected as a councillor. You would expect me to say that. The sort of thing you expect anyone who has been elected to say. I can only assure you that I found watching the votes being counted a remarkably humbling and touching experience.

Obviously I have no idea what the motives behind each ballot paper was. It might be some votes were cast for me in error, or perhaps simply because the voter disliked other people more than me. However, there will be some in there that reflected a positive decision to vote in my favour and for that I am incredibly grateful and hope I do not let those people down.

Looking across the rest of the borough the results were not what we would have hoped.

I wish John Marsh had been elected in Queenstown, I worked hard—but obviously not hard enough—to get him elected and think he would have been a great champion for the area.

I wish we hadn’t lost the councillors we did. John Locker, for example, was a superb champion for his ward and while I was an executive member I always appreciated his guidance: there is no doubt I did a better job with his support.

But democracy provides wisdom. I’m not sure how, but collectively the electorate collectively gets the result that’s right for the time. Wandsworth is still a Conservative borough, but obviously not quite as Conservative as it was (technically) yesterday. It is for those who are elected to divine the wisdom of the electoral crowd and how to respond.

Returning to my own election (I recognise that I am but one of sixty, but politics—and blogging—requires some ego, so trust you’ll forgive some narcissism) I’m enormously excited to be starting another term of office, and starting my own personal project to see what I can accomplish for Shaftesbury ward. There are, by my reckoning, about 1,442 days until the fourth day after the next ordinary election and I wonder how my end of term report will read.


  1. Councillors terms of office are dated from and until the fourth day after an ordinary election, usually the first Thursday in May, but changed this year to coincide with the European elections. 

Victoria Ayling screen grab
Victoria Ayling, in an unflattering screen grab unapologetically taken from the Mail’s website

Following The Mail on Sunday’s exposé of Victoria Ayling I should confess that I was a key advisor to her.

I’ll qualify that by adding that I was a key advisor in the same way as (I suspect) she is a ‘key Farage ally’ and a ‘high-profile’ UKIP politician: in other words, not at all except in the eyes of journalists wanting to make a story bigger than it is.

My non-position only lasted a few minutes when she called me about the Great Grimsby constituency after she was selected to see if I could offer any advice as the candidate-before-last. It was mildly flattering, although unnecessary, and I spent a while outlining my analysis of the constituency’s politics1. I’d like to think she paid attention to my diagnosis, and that it made a difference to the result. But putting the phone down I couldn’t help feeling it had been a nice courtesy, not a serious call.

I didn’t find myself thinking, “wow, that Victoria Ayling is a horrible racist” because the conversation didn’t cover anything to do with race. Even now I don’t know if she is a horrible racist. Having watched the video I’m inclined to think her comments were racist, but I’m not naïve enough to take at face value excerpts from a video edited by either the newspaper or her (seemingly embittered) ex-husband.

So the story is that someone who once stood for Parliament and is now a councillor is possibly, or even probably, a racist. Not good, but surely not worth the front page of a national paper.

As someone who once stood in Great Grimsby and is still a councillor I’m very comfortable with my place in the foothills of politics. I don’t expect to make the front page of even our local rag, let alone a national, because I recognise my lowly position in public life and public interest. I may be at the pinnacle–if looking down the precipice–of my political career, but it’s not that high up. The failed MP and local councillor combo is not front page, it’s footnote at best.2

But that ramble through the foothills of political careers brings me to my main point. The problem here is the sensationalising of such issues. The Mail on Sunday have taken a bit of video of a non-entity provided by an ex-husband motivated by, I assume, a mix of spite and financial gain, and published it. Ironically this is a from a newspaper stable that sensationalises everything. They bring daily cures or causes of cancer. Column inches demonising anyone who might dare to be vaguely foreign. Then put it all on website adorned with such banal fluff that it’s a Herculean effort not to feel your IQ dropping whenever you glance at it.

In fact the awful truth is that, as reading the comments on the Victoria Ayling article reveals, her alleged views are far too common and the political party makes no difference, especially once you are out of metropolitan areas. It isn’t just UKIP supporters, but also Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem supporters, sympathisers, activists and candidates sharing these views (nor is just those involved in politics, they are a small proportion of the population, and merely reflect it). Part of the reason they share these views is that papers like The Mail and Mail on Sunday give them all the ammunition they need.

A quick Google search reveals that in recent weeks Mail newspapers have been concerned about race riots, the £3.7 billion a year cost of immigrants, the loss of working class jobs to–you guessed–immigrants and the failure of the government to meet immigration targets. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the conclusions some will reach from this barrage of coverage. It does not excuse racism, but it certainly doesn’t help reduce it.

Plenty of other people have made the point before, though it is always worth repeating. The point that is less often made is that racism isn’t, generally, a political stance. People support political parties through a rational choice, for some that choice is more analytical than others, but it’s an informed choice based on principles or economics. Racism isn’t a rational choice, it’s driven by hatred, or by fear, or by ignorance. Instead of attaching political labels when such accusations are made, we may as well attach other information: “‘Send them all back home’ demands Sky subscriber” or maybe “EDF Energy customer demands stricter limits on benefits for immigrants.”

It means that we can’t have a proper debate on immigration, its advantages and disadvantages, because the risk of accusations of racism is too great; even typing this I’ve been wondering if I’m leaving myself open to criticism. That so many other media sources have rushed to cover the Victoria Ayling story means the problem continues. Rather than creating an environment which can host proper debate that might result in a more educated and enlightened society , the media’s break from immigration sensationalism to hunt for a racist non-entity means that the insidious grumbling racism that exists in homes, workplaces and pubs up and down the country will thrive for just a little bit longer yet.


  1. Being young and arrogant in 2001 and I didn’t bother calling the 1992 candidate. I paid the price for this, when, late one night at a subsequent party conference, the relevant candidate button-holed me–possibly tired from the late night and emotional from the sleight–to offer a lengthy, but hopefully therapeutic, exposition of my failings.  ↩
  2. But I’m happy with that, I like footnotes.  ↩