The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: The Old Order Changeth

Local elections
Local elections counting

Studying the numbers for the 2019 Borough elections and, while the Conservatives may be down, they aren’t out if they’ve the capacity and energy to adapt.

Despite an astounding campaign in Wescott and solid performances in Norreys and Shinfield North, too many Labour supporters stayed at home to give the party anything but a one seat gain.

Generally more than one in five Conservative voters either stayed home or changed sides. But there were exceptions to the rule as the campaigns in Norreys, South Lake and Shinfield North showed.

Liberal Democrats persuaded more than 50% of their armchair supporters to get out and vote, as the spectacular results in Wescott and Twyford demonstrated.

However, the biggest upset was the ‘Shinfield South switchover’, where the Independent candidate, Cllr Jim Frewin, gained support from all the other parties’ traditional voters.

The Writing’s on the Wall

It’s tempting – as well as very fashionable – to link this electoral defeat to Brexit and lay the blame on the Prime Minister.

However as the voters told canvassers on the doorstep, the most pressing issues aren’t national, they all lie within with the Borough – where Conservatives retain 31 of the 54 seats – a majority is 28.

It’d also be easy to claim that we need to alter the local elections and you might wonder what the Council would look like if we’d changed from 18 seats a year to all 54 at once.

Based on 2019’s voting, anything except the most optimistic outcome would have had the Conservatives booted out of power and out of office.

The exception would see a hung Council.

Choices, choices

So while campaign promises are worth about as much as a manifesto without an imprint, if local Tories are going to stop the rot, their choice of leader, the leader’s choice of the cabinet, the cabinet’s choice of policies and practice are going to need to make a real difference.

This difference is going to be as hard to achieve as getting political paradise instead of hell-on-earth.

To help you understand the dilemmas in the choices, here’s an example on based on the old joke of how Europe could be run: Heaven has British innovation, German organisation, Italian fashions, French food and Swiss banks while Hell has Swiss Innovation, French organisation, German fashions, British food and Italian banks.

Horrible around Highways

Back to the Borough and facing a 10-mile drive from Lower Earley to Crowthorne on a Friday afternoon after the Count for Town and Parish elections, I expected it to take about 25-30 minutes.

Seventy minutes later and now hopelessly late, I was sitting stationary in the third traffic jam, engine off and handbrake on (known in the trade as “parked”) and thinking what to do.

This jam was caused by Southern Gas Networks’ 300-yard long gas main replacement with one only lane (oncoming) and the traffic lights not working.

As I wrote last week, on reaching Crowthorne I messaged WBC’s Executive Member for Highways: “If it takes seven minutes to travel three car lengths along Dukes Ride, how many borough councillors does it take to get the asterisks at SGN to leave their traffic lights switched on?”

And although Dukes Ride lies outside the Borough (just), traffic jams make most residents unhappy with WBC Highways – twice a day.

Calamity with Children

If you’ve read the news this week about the recent Ofsted assessment, you’ll know that there’s concern over Wokingham’s provision for special educational needs and disabled (SEND) children.

Those with longer memories will recall that WBC’s budget for Children’s Services was overspent last year and is overspending again this year, reportedly because of the cost of hiring SEND services outside the Borough and having to pay for the specialised transport too.

During this period there’s been a number of complaints by parents about the stress that this has caused, along with other complaints about bussing schoolchildren around when WBC has a new school in Shinfield sitting empty with no pupils – “because there’s not enough demand”.

So here’s the five point plan

  1. Don’t listen to parents
  2. Over-provision the wrong things
  3. Sub-contract the problem to someone else
  4. Overspend your budget
  5. Deliver rotten results.

Parents and taxpayers aren’t impressed with the way WBC Children’s Services has been run over the past couple of years – any more than Ofsted were.

Obfuscation in Organisation

Late last week, a big tree was being cut down in our road, allegedly on the orders of Wokingham Borough Council (according to the workmen).

This was the fifth mature tree within 200 yards that WBC have had destroyed, so I phoned a Winnersh Borough Councillor.

As the Councillor wanted to see what was happening, they came round and were on the phone to WBC, waiting for their call to be answered when I walked over.

Listening to them while they gave their email address, including the bit at the end, there was a brief interval before they said “that’s because I’m a Borough Councillor – as I told you at the beginning of the call”.

So if people at WBC’s Shute End headquarters at are that hard to deal with even if you’re an elected representative, what hope does anyone else have?

The Last Word

It’s not long until the Annual Council meeting on Wednesday, May 22 reveals the new leader and their front bench.

And it won’t be long until we discover whether it’s the same old Torysaurs, all wanting return tickets to Dignitas next May or whether they’re truly setting out to succeed.

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