VIEWPOINTS: Halsall’s Extra Strength


The vote-quakes in last month’s local elections were the biggest upheaval in Wokingham politics in living memory. Losing over half the seats they contested last month, the Conservatives seem to have come off second best.

But there’s a school of thought that says it wasn’t only deserved, it was necessary and timely, since Conservatives have had too much for too long.

So whether it was a ‘big problem’ or a ‘chance to improve’, WBC’s ruling group needed a re-think.

Meet the New Boss

And what a re-think it’s had – even in the path to find its new leader.

The word on the street is that to begin it was John Kaiser who stood.

Then Stuart Munro put his name in the ring to give some choice. Then Keith Baker chipped in, so Stuart withdrew from a crowded field.

With allegations that he had (and that he hadn’t) been offered a suitable position in KB’s new cabinet John quietly withdrew, leaving Keith a free run at the top job again.

Until John Halsall put his name into the ring, then won the vote by the slimmest of slim margins.

Of course, not being a direct witness, all of the above might just be complete fiction. However it shows that the show ain’t over until Pavarotti stops waking people up.

As for the new leader, he’s gone from being a thorn in the administration’s side to being alongside the administration to ‘being’ the administration in almost as many months.

But this is Wokingham …

… Surely nothing’s changed, has it?

In case you missed May’s Annual Council Meeting (the month, not the Mrs), the new Leader gave an opening speech for the year, setting out a number of proposals that are very different from what’s been put forward before.

The first quarter of his speech was an opener and, unless you were particularly interested, could easily have passed without notice, until the “I have no need to remind you” piece.

This is a diplomat’s phrase, where the ‘but I’m going to remind you anyway’ is silent, much like the silent ‘P’ which is taken at the start of psychology.

Back to the [non]-reminder which was that “we are here for one purpose and one purpose alone, which is to serve our residents”.


Back-bench spluttering was heavily suppressed by the new mumble-phones in the council chamber (which worked well) unlike the last few administrations (which didn’t).

After this stab in the front, a few platitudes were needed to soothe the troubled and these were delivered with dignity and aplomb. From one’s vantage point high up in the cheap seats, the proximity of tongue and cheek was unclear.

… had nobody been listening?

The last quarter of the leader’s speech hit the ‘pain points’ that’d come up on the doorsteps during the local elections, namely:

Being flooded with new houses; the Local Plan not helping us; unaffordable housing; no rural housing for locals;

Traffic congestion; too many roadworks; traffic regulation backlog; traffic petition virtually ignored;

Eight8 schools in the Borough with poor Ofsted ratings (‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’);

Cultural paucity” – despite having “over 800 football teams”, though the two aren’t related (probably).

And Wokingham town’s regeneration – “some of [which] will be concluding at a time when we” won’t have much money (a simplified form of what he actually said).

There was an unequivocal commitment to fight the Government’s housing numbers, supported by proposals for action on most of the other points, so it looks like the administration will be ‘living in interesting times’ during the next year as they try to turn things round.

Climate of Urgency

The two quarters at the start and end of the new leader’s speech were only the half of it.

The middle half of the speech was about declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’.

I’d initially heard this as a ‘climate of urgency’ which fitted better with the scope and scale of the problems the new administration inherited.

Which perhaps explained one’s confusion, whilst trying to work out what the ‘green’ talk was all about.

But after researching what other councils are doing about climate change, it turns out that over 70 of England’s 343 primary councils have got onto a similar page since mid-November last year.

Looking through those 70+ council minutes to discover who’d ‘just gone through the motions’, who’d ‘thought it was a good idea but …’ and who’d ‘actually done something’ showed that there’s very few of the latter, despite campaigners claims.

In one council’s Climate Emergency, their minutes recorded the “aim of reducing carbon omissions”.



The Last Word

What determines the success of the reforms isn’t in the rhetoric of the leader’s or the front bench speeches.

It isn’t even inside the council offices.

It’s visible in people’s everyday lives, which you get to vote on in a year’s time.

And WBC delivering some ‘pain relief’ is going to be challenging.

No pressure then.

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