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Red flags such as ULEZ and 20mph speed limits across entire city in Green’s manifesto, and 6-9pm seafront parking charges omitted from coalition, here’s my deep-dive manifesto review of all parties

Updated: Apr 30

I have taken the liberty of reviewing all the local manifestos of the parties that are standing on May 2nd. I am not out to cause upset amongst those responsible, I just speak as an observer and offer my personal and quite obviously un-objective opinions!


The Confelicity manifesto could just as easily be criticised in the same way, and I would be open to it being reviewed as such.


The ‘Independent Group’


I thought I’d include them even though they are not a party. They have enormous influence over the council, and so I have an observation about them: they do not require a manifesto!


There is practically no information on what any of them would do and who they are, aside from incessantly advocating for charging residents to pay 6pm to 9pm!


Last time they were in power they were going to charge residents to park in our parks, charge to go to the toilet, evict Jazz UK from the Beecroft, leave the street lights dimmed, reduce grass cutting to once a year so our grass verges were a state, and contributed to the multi-million pound deficit - albeit adult and child social care costs were a significant part of that. Not sure if that is their current plan, but maybe that is a reason for them to collectively announce something.


When you vote for The Independent Group without any knowledge of what they intend to do, you are effectively granting them the power to do anything! They will say something like ‘we are not governed by party politics, only the residents of the city matter’. But without a manifesto who knows what decisions they will make?


One other very frustrating point for non-aligned Independents is that they get tarred with the same brush. They are nothing to do with this group, so on the ballot make sure you recognise the difference.


What is almost certain, is they will form a coalition with Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens.


Southend Labour


There is no manifesto - we instead have a ‘5 point plan’.


I don’t really know what to make of it. How is it that the main opposition think there are only 5 issues to be concerned about? Particularly when they, themselves, bring up so many over the year in every meeting! They have done themselves a grave dis-service, as they do provide an excellent opposition in the meetings. Whether you agree with them or not, or think they are painfully pedantic, they do hold the Southend Conservatives to account.


Why then, have they produced this betrayal of their qualities?


To be blunt, I would be so embarrassed if Confelicity produced this. I would expect a lynching from the party if I suggested this would be good enough and would understand why members might call for my resignation. At some point, we will have a new leader and if they suggested this, I’d have to call for a vote of no confidence. Either that or start a new party!


There seems to have been a conscious effort made to say as little as possible, so they cannot be accused of breaking any promises.


As it is, all we have to rely on are the budget amendments they made, which include charging residents 6pm to 9pm on the seafront whilst stating in their 5 points they want to ‘attract more people to Southend’!


What might have justified this manifesto technique was if the 5 pledges were each world-beating superstars in their own right. Something revolutionary and revelationary. Alas, it is arranging events that already exist; a free bulky waste collection; and protecting family centres when their own budget amendment cut high street parking by 11%, instead of saving the St Luke’s family centre. And yes, I acknowledge this was in the Tory’s budget, so it is not to blame Labour!


This is the party that will most likely be in power after May 2nd with their coalition partners, and residents will have given Labour very little mandate on which to take us forward. Even if this is a political masterstroke, I would remain unhappy if this is how they ‘won’ power.



Liberal Democrats


I acknowledge the weakness of manifestos in general is the lack of detail that it allows for. Unfortunately, there is no room to write a PhD for every pledge. It means that each policy can be left open to criticism such as costings and implementation strategies.


There are tricks of the trade, such as ensuring to keep things vague enough not to have broken any promises after the election - and this is where this manifesto wins above all others.


As far as I can tell, they want to fine parents for leaving their cars on idle whilst picking up the kids and at certain junctions. This would mean employing people to carry out this task, and it is such a draconian measure for which the problem could be addressed differently.


They mention their £10m acquisition of the Victoria Centre like it was a success. They had to spend £4m extra on repairs and it is virtually empty. It could have been something special, but its potential has been wasted.


They want to ‘give everything they can to bring the Kursaal back into use’ without specifying what the ‘everything’ is. I would be in favour of keeping the council a long way from it as the Victoria Centre is concrete proof they would be unable to turn it around. This project is starting from scratch and will only become a lead weight dragging council finances to the floor.


They briefly mention the Seaway development. Similar to the Kursaal, it is far beyond the capabilities of the council. This is not to insult them - all these schemes are hugely complicated and are beyond the skill set of almost all of us mere mortals. They had previously earmarked £10m to help fund a now estimated £70m project that even the developer says is economically unviable. This is after selling the land for £1 to get to get a rent that they already got via the car parking revenue.


I believe councils should facilitate developments, not be in the middle of it. I realise the council secured a significant amount of cheap money for which interest is being paid, and they are actively looking to invest. But this one is dead, and they need to let it go. A cinema near a cinema and a bowling alley next to a bowling alley was never a good idea!


Finally, they mention the reduction in high street parking while omitting they support the 6pm to 9pm parking charges on the seafront all year round. Visitors, residents, businesses and jobs will be negatively affected. It is infuriating when I’m asked by those who support this: ‘what evidence have you got that says this will happen’? Well, only the whole history of capitalist economics that says put the price up and the volume goes down (unless you’re a high end seller)! Even posing that question as the basis for the argument is a worry.


Overall, the vagueness of their seemingly innocuous pledges are a concern. As potential coalition partners it basically means anything is possible.



Southend Greens


The Greens, in contrast to all that have gone before, have developed a substantial manifesto. It shows a respect toward Southend because that would have taken a lot of time and discussion to put together.


I applaud the Greens for this.


I have also been informed that their manifesto is based on research conducted within universities, so there is evidence-based credibility to what they visualise for the future.


I would like to note that the Green Party is a party of conviction, which means they have policies that will be an anathema to certain sections of Southend and the UK.


It goes without saying that they are working backwards from the notion of the cleanest air and water, and to preserve the environment. I don’t think there are many that would disagree with that, however, many are just not prepared to sacrifice what probably needs to be done to achieve this - including myself.


So, whilst I do agree with their primary goal and with many of their pledges, there are certain measures that I just could not back.


If elected, they will:


‘Implement a borough-wide Low Emission Zone, and use the fines generated from the scheme to finance a public awareness campaign on sustainable transit alternatives’.


This policy will punish the lower income households and cause chaos for many people’s lives. Whilst there may be a celebration for some in London, so many more are suffering economically. There is a balance to be struck, but I do not believe this is it.


They want to introduce a 20mph speed limit across the whole of the city.


As a driver, I know how to keep to a safe speed and do not require my life to be slowed to a near halt because of a few irresponsible drivers that would not pay attention to the new speed limit anyway! I have driven in London under the 20mph speed limit and it is overkill. I’m not sure Wales is getting along with it too well either!


They would abolish grammar schools citing them as ‘part of the reason for the ‘failure students in Southend’. In principle they are right - we should just have a great school system! But this is not the case, and in this reality, I just couldn’t disagree more. Southend High and Westcliff High are such important assets for education in our city, and transforming what are huge successes would be cutting so many noses and faces off for a principle that might be correct at its root, but not in reality. The teachers at those schools would be outraged to hear of this policy, as would the parents and children. The only adjustment I would make is to reserve all places for local children, which is not the case at the moment.


They want to ‘End Southend Council’s strategic partnership with London Southend Airport, and formally acknowledge that the council seeks to reduce the Airport and it’s operations.’ Understandable, given that saving the environment is their central purpose, but in the real world this will cost hundreds of jobs and will end up causing the death of the airport. Do residents want that? Well, demand for Southend Airpoet does not suggest that. In fact, it is one of our best assets.


They want to introduce the Southend Living Wage, initially seeking to pay all council employees no less than £15 per hour. Yes, everyone should be on a decent wage, but this will cripple the council’s finances. One of the main reasons adult and child social care costs have spiralled out of control is the introduction of paying above the national living wage - as hard as it is to admit. Such a delicate subject, but one that we must be realistic about. At a guess, this could add another £5 million+ to our already strained budget. Poverty and poorness must be addressed, but the best thing to do is look at lowering the cost of living with council rents and other areas the council have control over.


I do not use the term ‘woke’ disparagingly, and by its inherent meaning, most people are unknowingly woke. That is not to say there isn’t a limit that people are not willing to go to and I would imagine there will be those that might find these following pledges below difficult to swallow.


They will:


Change the language within council documents and meetings to become gender neutral and gender-varian. They would ensure materials relating to LGBTIQA+ history is made available to all education practitioners and at every library in the borough; and ensure materials such as “Decolonise the Curriculum” and “The Black Curriculum” are made available at every library in the Borough and support local schools in diversifying their curriculum to teach diverse and representative history’.


Overall, a visionary manifesto that contains a lot of good intentioned pledges. Their housing policy looks smart. They are against the Seaway development. They want to reduce the pay of senior staff, which I got attacked for earlier on in the year for suggesting this! And they oppose the rollout of facial recognition technology by Police in Southend. There was a mention about Sealife, but that’s for another day! However, there are too many red flags that I do not align with.


With a second Green councillor inevitable in Leigh, their demands in the coalition negotiations may just strengthen and who knows what we might end up with.



Southend Conservatives


I have never and will never vote Tory. The National Conservative Party have failed in so many areas, but local politics is different to an extent - or at least in this case. The local picture is the Conservatives versus the rest of the world (or specifically Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and the Independent Group).


As the party in power, we already know what they are going to do through the budget, which includes, unfortunately, reducing dementia services and closing the St Luke’s family Centre. They are also the fall guys for introducing fortnightly bin collections.


What is worth noting is what they have done over the year:


They scrapped the 6pm to 9pm seafront parking; scrapped charging to park in parks; scrapped the re-wilding programme; scrapped any idea of ULEZ and LTNs such as Hamlet Court Road; reduced the deficit; and scrapped evicting Jazz UK from the Beecroft.


Overall, whilst the Greens have the most ambitious manifesto, albeit not one I could vote for, the Tories will deliver the most realistic one, whilst ‘stopping stupid’.


Southend Confelicity


My frustration with politics is where the power lies in the decision-making of manifestos.


I bumped into one of the Green candidates and discussed their manifesto, and they seemed surprised when I told them about their pledges for LEZ and 20mph speed limits across the whole of Southend. They then said to me they didn’t agree with it and would go with what the residents want. This is exactly how I didn’t want to run the party.


Not to be detrimental to them, but I just didn’t want mouthpieces nor did I want to be one - what’s the point?


I wanted to voice my opinion: take a vote on it and have the power to veto polices I didn’t like!

And if it doesn’t become party policy I wanted to remain free to speak my mind.


This is the system of Confelicity, and it has meant that we have to arrange monthly meetings to debate all the current issues of the day. It is very rewarding, but a very long process.


I have lost votes on matters I wanted in the manifesto, but failed with only one or two members voting against. But it works because most people agree about most things most of the time!


Our manifesto has been developed over two years by over a hundred Southend residents. That’s one of the reasons why I am proud of it.


I do not think it is perfect and throughout the debates, many members raised the concerns that have now been raised by other parties. But it is a manifesto for Southend that talks about all the issues that may seem small, but are of great importance to the lives of residents.



Let the horse-trading begin - the coalition


With the review over, I wanted to extend this blog to include the ramifications of coalitions and what the outcomes could mean for Southend.


All manifestos go out the window once horse-trading of policies starts, no matter how hard the pre-election denials are. Just look at the national Liberal Democrats and students fees.

There are no guarantees of anything when it comes to building a coalition, so residents are at the behest of a few individuals making potentially game-changing decisions upon our lives.


Labour will be in the driving seat, but they will need to offer something to entice the others to join them. Lib Dems are easy - they already agree on most things. For those in the Independent Group, Cabinet positions will be enough to please - bear in mind they already secured the 6pm to 9pm seafront parking.


And now for the growing Greens!


As a coalition partner, I would know what the Green’s ultimate goal is - whether now or in two, three or five years time. I would know that to keep them onside I would have to move closer to their vision, and if I was desperate for power, I would be prepared to give it.


I believe Cllr Cowan when he says that he does not want to implement ULEZ, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen anyway. Unless the Labour Party have become a dictatorship, he alone cannot make that decision. Jeremy Corbyn was uncompromisingly against renewing Trident, yet the party voted differently.


Moreover, Cllr Cowan is overtly ambitious. His ousting of Cllr George’s leadership last year is testament to that, and gaining the leadership of the council could be too hard to resist.


I know if I were the Greens I would push as hard as I could to get what I wanted, and besides, that won’t be the end of it. It can be hard enough to keep your own party onside, but balancing the needs of coalition partners will need constant attention. At any time fallouts can happen and re-negotiations necessary.


I would imagine the Greens would be prepared to drop it for now. They would know it is currently unpopular amongst many anyway. But this policy can be massaged in, in others ways. Low traffic neighbourhoods are one example, and the previous coalition, without the Greens, were most definitely considering the implementation of ‘Quiet Roads/Streets’, where roads would be blocked off to cars. They most certainly were looking at pedestrianising parts of Hamlet Court Road - a death sentence for businesses. And they were very definitely quoted as saying 15 minute cities were ‘interesting’.


I know I am speculating. I know I am fear-mongering. I realise I don’t know what this coalition will conjure. I know I have made the Greens to be some kind of political virus! And I know what I am doing by saying all this.


So, the three options are the Conservatives, the coalition horse-traders (not meant as insult) and the Southend Residents Party that is Confelicity. That’s the choice this coming election and we await with great anticipation what residents decide.

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