THE COUNTDOWN to the local election is on, and the local parties are gearing up to start bombarding the electorate with their propaganda. Who will promise the earth and fail to deliver? Who will smear the opposition into the ground? The first political weapon came through the letterbox the other day and it was marked out in Labour warpaint.
Labour are certainly stepping up the pressure on the Tories with this leaflet which features the old fashioned black and red colours of hardcore socialism. Featured prominently is the stocky left-wing messiah, Cllr Simon Blackburn, and several images of bundles of £10 notes going down the grid.
Blackburn sports the menacing grimace of a man on a mission; his sunken eyes hunting for Conservative stragglers who could fall victim to the tub-thumping Labour juggernaut. Every attempt is made to push the left-leaning buttons of the audience; the leaflet being jam-packed with ideologically-driven rhetoric labelling the ConDem coalition as a ‘hideous alliance’ and telling the reader of “Cameron and Callow’s shameful neglect” and how “Tory waste and greed has ruined the town”.
Browsing the front page of the leaflet we’re told that the Tories have betrayed Blackpool, and on a sidebar on the left it says Cllr Blackburn has set out his alternative vision for Blackpool, but they seem to have missed this part from the leaflet because all it contains are fairly predictable attacks on the Conservative party and council. Most of them are pretty fair attacks too, and ones I have probably made myself, but this is a blog, not a party political advertisement trying to coax the electorate into lending me their vote. The Labour leaflet fails to take any positive angle on why the Labour party are fresh, relevant and why they are going to be better than the current bunch, which for me is a massive disappointment because my vote is up for grabs.
The leaflet gives the impression that Cllr Blackburn and his team are most definitely people who are prepared to go over and beyond the call of duty to sink their ideological enemies; the reference to Cllr Callow above a picture of a seaside donkey leaves the reader with a clear mind as to how the rest of the rhetoric will proceed.
The bottom half of the front page features yet more Tory bashing and the revelation that Labour have only been knocking on doors since June 2010. Labour are the self-appointed residents’ party, are they not? Surely they are always knocking on doors to remain in touch with their beloved electorate, not just, ahem, in the run up to an election. The text goes on to mention the cut to the Educational Maintenance Allowance, but doesn’t mention Labour’s plans to impose a permanent, life-long graduate tax which applies whether or not you end up in one of these enviable high-paid jobs that people seem to assume graduates end up in. Not that any of this is relevant to Blackpool council, because it’s all national stuff.
Flipping through the leaflet there are plenty of punchy headlines, but the text beneath doesn’t have anything to do with the headline. For instance, we’re told that “Labour focus on the REAL issues”, yet the subsequent wall of text just criticises the Tory party because Labour-appointed council chief executive Steve Weaver passed on government cuts which Labour would themselves have had to pass on if they had been the council in power.
A theme which crops up a few times is that the Tory council didn’t understand that cuts would be necessary if a Tory government was elected. This is as ludicrous as it is irrelevant. Labour sold off the country’s gold reserves, Labour bailed out the banks, Labour fuelled a boom with rash, unsustainable spending and borrowing. Whether the local Tories understood whether the cuts would be coming or not is immaterial: Blackpool council doesn’t decide its settlement, the government does.
So what are the real issues? It doesn’t say.
There is a section containing Simon Blackburn’s five pledges for Blackpool, so lets check that out.
Simon’s Five Pledges
1: Cut the cost of councillors and senior council officers.
This seems a bit hypocritical given the fact that Mr Blackburn himself has cost the Blackpool taxpayer thousands of unnecessary pounds in expenses because he chose to use the slowest and most expensive form of transport to travel to London, chose to stay in luxury hotels and chose to buy meals despite them being provided at the LGA events he was attending.
Compared with other Labour councils, the allowances for councillors in Blackpool are very low so it seems similarly ludicrous for both main parties to fight over who can cut the councillors’ allowances the most. Cutting allowances simply means that the ageing councillors will only get older and the position of councillor will become even less attractive than it already is.
In terms of council officers, the only way I could see a cut in pay being possible is if they either resign or are paid off and then the job readvertised on lower money. Looking at how much former executives Julian Kearsley and Steve Pullan got, it would be several hundreds of thousands of pounds per person to get rid of France, Weaver, Young, Cavill, and so on. It would be like rewarding them for their failure, but Labour are good at that if the banks are anything to go by.
2: Vastly improved roads and pavements.
This appears to be Simon Blackburn muscling in and trying to take credit for something that is going on already, much like Boris Johnson did in London. The road and pavement repair project is already under way, though it should have been started in 2007 as the Conservatives promised in their manifesto, not weeks before the 2011 election.
But what’s this? In the very same leaflet, Simon Blackburn criticizes the £30m ‘Project 30′ road and pavement repair project, labelling it a ‘farce’ that the council is borrowing £30m (and paying back £48m) to do the road repairs. So where will Simon Blackburn find this money if he’s not going to borrow it? What front line services will he be cutting? Remember, the government cut around £30m from the council budget and this will result in around 1000 job losses. If Simon Blackburn is not going to borrow the money to repair the roads, we could be looking at another 1000 jobs on the line.
In this section Simon also promises to ensure pavements remain free of dog poo, but like drinking on the street or littering, this is one of those things that are completely unenforceable unless there is a witness that wants to get involved with the police. Even if there is, the police are unlikely to respond rapidly to a case of doggie defecation. It’s difficult enough to get them to come out if you’re being held at knifepoint, instead the call centre operator asks you how sharp the knife is and whether there are any witnesses.
3. A war on antisocial behaviour
Blackburn promises ‘new powers’ which will be used to ‘crack down’ on noisy neighbours and bad landlords. What about drinking on the street, or kids loitering in gangs, or boy racers pumping their stereos, or drug dealing, or vandalism, …
Bear in mind that Labour said they were tackling antisocial behaviour when they introduced the ASBO, but that backfired so badly that the ASBO became an object of desire: feral youths actually wanted one to improve their street cred.
4. Better transport for all
This heading is followed by another leftie alliterative gem, as Simon promises to end ‘Tory Traffic Turmoil’. Interestingly he mentions introducing sensible road routes, a better bus service and affordable parking charges. This is a good policy, if a little opportunist. The transport system does need a substantial overhaul, with roads renewed and routes into town created rather than truncated by the spread of pedestrianisation. Later in the leaflet Simon mentions the dreaded cycle lane obsession, questioning the reasoning behind blocking off town centre arteries to pollute them with cycle lanes.
5. Councillors that care
Simon promises that councillors will perform regular surgeries, walkabouts and deal with issues promptly. Doesn’t this happen already?
Facts, Figures and Farce
I mentioned that the leaflet contained mostly Tory-bashing, so let us move on to some more of that. The leaflet contains a small section which enlightens us to the following issues, each of which is labelled as a ‘Tory farce’.
- The council wanted to waste money on a Lowry painting
I agree, this is a farce.
- The council have spent £40m on the Winter Gardens and Tower
It’s a large amount of cash, but it’s better than them being owned by a private landlord with no intention of spending anything on them. Work is being done at incredible cost, I just hope the gamble that the council has taken on this one is going to pay off.
- The council have lent £5m to the Pleasure Beach
I agree with Simon on this one. It was appalling to see not only the deal being done behind closed doors, but to subsequently see the deputy council leader’s scaffolding firm on site.
- The council have lent £2m to the Sandcastle (it’s £2.5m actually)
The council own the Sandcastle so this is a stupid point.
- The council are borrowing £30m to sort out the roads and pavements
According to Simon’s pledges, he will also sort out the roads and pavements, but since he thinks borrowing the money is a farce, how will he raise the £30m? The only way he could possibly raise this amount is to cut front line services or sell off council assets. For a saving of £30m, Labour would have to cut over 600 libraries, but unfortunately there are only 5 libraries left.
- The council have cut two libraries and SureStart
It seems ludicrous that these centres were all closed for the sake of less than Helen France’s salary. It would have made far more sense to get rid of her and keep them open. The membership figures for the two libraries were low, and it has been said that SureStart isn’t working as intended, so perhaps a rethink on that would be beneficial.
Unsurprisingly, this leaflet prominently features Simon Blackburn’s other half, the indoctrinated left wing ranter Gillian Campbell, who you may have seen on here some time ago blasting Tory candidate for Squires Gate Christian Cox for labelling darling Simon “slimy” and “arrogant”. According to the text, mother of three Ms Campbell is on a brainwashing crusade, “exposing the antics of the Tories” on Grange Park. I am sure the good people of Park are fascinated by her anecdotes.
In further support of Ms Campbell, there is a section which gets stuck into her opponent, Cllr Collins. Apparently Cllr Collins has not once voted against his ‘Tory mates’. Not really much of a shock given that the Conservatives are whipped. How often have Labour members voted against their ‘Labour mates’ though? Never? Why not? They’re whipped as well. Nul points.
The leaflet continues and tells us that Cllr Collins ‘allowed’ the closure of the library on Grange Park. Except he didn’t. In fact, he had nothing to do with it because libraries are not part of his portfolio. Some further interesting points were raised by Simon Blackburn, but strangely none of them tell us why we should vote for his party.
Other points made by Simon Blackburn on this leaflet are that;
- Too many in the town hall earn six-figure salaries
- The Conservatives accepted £10,000 in donations from Kensington developments and only scraped a win in the Stanley by-election
- Carnesky’s Ghost Train was a waste of money by Maxine Callow and remains a white elephant
- Hotel zones have been chopped and changed, excluding a chunk of holiday accommodation such that they can now be turned into HMOs
- That there is an “invasion” of budget hotel chains which leaves local hoteliers “feeling threatened”
I did expect something more aggressive, with some real policies rather than a bit of a shower of emotive buzzwords. Not even a mention of Crystal Road and the £3 properties fiasco, St. John’s Square, Birley Street, Talbot Gateway, Yates’ hoardings, Comedy Carpets, Blackpool South station, Blackpool North station, above average arson, the drugs problem, park and ride, obscene levels of litter, commitments to redeveloping the town centre for housing rather than building on green spaces, etc. Questions for Simon, then.
- Where are you going to get the money to do the road and pavement repairs if the £30m borrowing is a ‘farce’?
- How will you reduce dog fouling?
- Will you actively push for cleaner town centre and promenade streets, not just through bigger bins and more frequent and efficient collection by a refuse vehicle, but by signage around town saying that Blackpool has a zero tolerance policy on the dropping of litter and that perpetrators can expect on-the-spot fines?
- How will you assist new business start-ups and going concerns?
- Will you change council car parks from pay and display to ticketed entry and provide more ways than cash to pay for them?
- What plans do you have for the Winter Gardens, given that you say the purchase of this and Blackpool Tower were both a ‘farce’.
- What transport improvements will you make in order to improve the flow of motor vehicles in Blackpool?
- How are you going to stop the job cuts at the town hall?
- How are you going to cut the cost of councillors and council officers?
- Are you going to switch off the Illuminations to save £2m, as was reported in the Gasjet, or not?
- What positive policies can we expect by voting Labour?