Thursday, May 17, 2007

From out of nowhere ...

Rumours abound in Oxford political circles that two councillors are about to form a Conservative Group on the City Council. (see here, here and here)

If they do so it will be the first time there has been a Tory group since 1996 when I was fortunate to be the agent for the Lib Dem candidates that booted the last Tories off (other than a very brief period when one was elected by accident in Martson a few years ago).

Having gone 10 years without a group I can understand the Tories' frustration, but I would have thought that putting a bit of effort in to win a seat at an election might be seen as a more popular way of getting some councillors.

Instead they have persuaded the political equivalent of 'hand me downs' to become Conservatives.

Knowing both councillors concerned I will be astounded if they have really become Conservatives.

Knowing a fair few Oxfordshire Conservatives I wonder how pleased they will be with their new recruits.

I do hope they get along ...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weekly bin collections - A phyrric victory?

Like many other places the local Tories here wer delivering leaflets on polling day which said 'Vote Conservative to save weekly bin collections'.

These may have had more impact if there was the slightest hint that the current Lib Dem administration had any plans to ditch weekly bin collections.

If the Tories have won seats and councils on the back of this campaign I do wonder if it will come back to bite them.

The first council in Oxfordshire to move to fortnightly collections was Tory run Cherwell. It appears to have been popular and has had a positive effcect on recycling rates.

Lib Dem run Oxford has now followed suit and, despite a bit of noise in the local press, the scheme seems to be settling in well and largely popular.

I do wonder how these new Tory administrations are going to manage. They all have tough recycling targets to hit and will pay a steadily rising cost for landfill. They won't be able to aford the extra costs of recycling AND weekely collections of residual rubbish and won't be popular when they have to cut other services as a result.

I hope they thought it through!

My take on the results

The term 'a mixed bag' has been overused but is, I think, a fair summary.

Having helped run a campaign in a council next door to David Cameron's Witney constituency I am now certain that there is no 'Cameron effect', at least not in the way the media usually use the term.

The local elections here were fought on local issues and, despite visits from both Cameron and Campbell during the campaign, national politics didn't feature much.

The result in the Vale mirrors the position in many other Lib Dem held or target seats - consolidation where we already do well and progress where there is still room to make it.

(I was surprised to hear, for example, taht we had gained another three seats in Chris Huhne's Eastleigh constituency, primarily because I hadn't realised that there were still that many seats left for us to gain).

Our big losses appear to have come in councils where there were particularly strong local issues - such as Bournemouth - in constituencies where new Tory MPs are digging in - such as Waverley, Newbury - and in seats where they fought us off hard at the last election - Maidenhead, New Forest.

In most other places it is steady as she goes.

In my view our real challenge is to build sufficient organisation and understanding of modern campaigning in the places we are drifting back. Where we are doing this we are making good progress. There are still far too many local parties who are not doing this.

If there is any 'Cameron effect' it is that more Tory MPs and local parties are refreshing their approach to campaigning and are reaping the rewards from it.

How not to do rebuttal

I always worry when Lib Dems announce that they 'have to' spend the campaigning rebutting what the other side are saying about us.

And this web page from the local Tories just about sums it up.

Once you've read some of the most effective bits of our leaflets and noticed their long and tedious rebuttal in a small typeface alongside it you might find this sentence:

'We do not beleive that it should be the role of the Council to organise activities for young people,'

Now, can you guess what was plastered all over our eve of poll leaflets in the marginal wards?

You guessed it!

And they sum up their whole approach when they say:

'We believe in words not actions.'


So, top tips for Lib Dems:

1 Think before you rebut. Continuing to promote your agreed campaign messages will nearly always be a better use of time and effort than rebutting the opposition.

2 If you are going to do a rebuttal, don't make it obvious that it is a rebuttal. Just state your case on the issue clearly and more effectively.

3 Don't repeat their message for them. So ofen our rebuttal starts by repeating their attack. THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO! Don't do it!

4 Pick on one thing they've lied about and attck it hard. It is far easier to convince on one simple fact that in lots of detail.

5 Make your rebuttal shorter and simpler than their attack. Otherwise you won't win the argument.

Progtastic mate

Now that the dust has settled on the elections I am looking forward to catching up with a batch of excellent British (and prog influenced) rock that has been released recently.

The new Marillion album was released a few weeks ago and even hit number 24 on the album chart. Called 'Somewhere Else' it is a very listenable collection of songs highlighting Steve Hogarth's emotional writing and voice and some fantastic guitar playing by Steve Rothery.

The band is currently on tour in Europe and heading for the UK soon. Details here. Tickets are selling fast though, with the Leeds gig, which I am going to, already sold out.

A week later came Fear of a Blank Planet from the mighty Porcupine Tree which aslo charted, at 31.

For those unfamiliar with this band they remind me of the Floyd in overall feel and depressing lyrical content, with a slightly heavier sound. This album's theme is that youngsters nowadays are growing up in a consumerist hell of a world. Cheery stuff!

They have just toured the UK (I missed them due to the elections, grrr) but return for an appearance at the metaltastic Download Festival in June, so I'll see them there.

Finally rock veterans Magnum have released their latest album Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow. This is one of their best, perhaps influenced by doing the anniversary gigs for their classic On A Storyteller's Night album last year.

All three will appeal to any classic rock fans out there.

More Lib Dem councillors than ever in Abingdon

Well we did it.

We gained the three Vale of White Horse DC seats and four Abingdon Town Council seats that slipped our fingers four years ago after the boundary changes.

Abingdon now has 14 out of 14 Vale councillors and 21 out of 21 Town councillors.

We can't claim a record for the clean sweep - we did that in 1999 - but we can claim that we now have a record number of Lib Dem councillors in the town, thanks to the boundary changes four years ago.

In the ward where I live the missus, Samantha Bowring to you, and Beth Fleming, beat two local Tory stalwarts to gain the town's most marginal ward.

The count was hard work but fun. We weren't sure we'd won. We knew we were close but that it would come down to the marginals. The Tories turned up expecting to gain seats in Abingdon and win the Vale.

As the verification started it became clear that we were edging them in the marginal wards and that we were even in contention over in Grove which we weren't expecting.

The Tory faces got longer and longer as it became clear they had lost.

In the end we gained five seats and lost one to them in Kennington.

The final result across the Vale was 34 Lib Dem, 17 Con, not bad for a council we've run for twelve years now.

Good news for Evan Harris - we took 53% of the votes across the Vale wards in his constituency and 51% if you include the Kidlington results.

Not so good news for the Tory leadership on the Vale whose strategy failed completely and a little surprising that Ed Vaizey, Tory MP for Wantage, let seats slip in his patch.