Fringe Box



Opinion: What Has Clacton To Do With Guildford?

Published on: 13 Oct, 2014
Updated on: 14 Oct, 2014

ballot boxBy Martin Giles

So in Clacton, Essex, last week UKIP trounced the Conservatives. Does this have anything to do with us here in Guildford?

I think it it is worth pondering a comparison with the result in our most recent by-election where the Conservatives were also trounced but this time by the Lib Dems.

Of course, the outcome and the main issues were completely different. In Lovelace, the ward that covers Ripley, Wisley and Ockham, the main topic was the Local Plan and proposals to build on green belt land. In Clacton the main issue was immigration.

One common factor was dissatisfaction with the way things are being run, whether by the established political parties at Westminster or by the Tories and the Executive/Strong Leader model of governance at Millmead.

But there is another important similarity. The reluctance of those in power to accept the expressed view of the majority of those who vote.

On immigration, despite the high net migration figures*, the Lib Dems don’t seem to think that there is much of a problem. They are keen on the EU and accept the consequences of the free movement of people within it. Moreover, the very idea of immigration control seems to them to be unacceptable, morally repugnant even.

Labour are in a similar position and many share that view but there is a significant faction of their party saying that immigration is a problem and it is affecting the lower paid working men and women of this country, their core supporters, more than anyone else.

Meanwhile Conservatives appear completely schizophrenic, some openly sympathising with the UKIP view and others clinging to the idea that a magic formula can be worked out with the rest of the EU. Good luck with that.

The track records of all governments over the last 20 years are abysmal. They have, because of their own policies, or acquiescence to EU policies, overseen the biggest influx of migration ever. Have they ever taken responsibility for their performance? What do you think? When the public or the media have not liked it they have blamed their civil servants.

But when a fish rots it starts at the head and this has definitely been the problem on immigration. It was the politicians and their unmandated policies that were, in reality, the rotten head of the system “not fit for purpose”.

Now, largely because of immigration, we have a housing shortage driving up prices to unprecedented levels. Where are all these people to live? The problem seems to have taken some by surprise, despite warnings that have been given for well over a decade.

Given that the government must realise it is unable to control the level of immigration into the UK (let’s pray they can at least be that honest with themselves), what is their solution? Build more houses. In fact, it is stated as a more than just a solution, it is as if it has become some sort of national duty: we all have to do our bit.

If this were Canada, or Australia or the USA that might present less of a problem, but land is a very scarce resource in England, now the most densely populated country in Europe. Where should these houses go?

In Guildford borough almost 90% of the land is green belt, an area of land protected to prevent urban sprawl and provide amenity for those who live in the metropolis of London. Much of it also has an important agricultural role.

The problem the politicians face is that more and more voters are saying, “Hang on a minute, this isn’t what we want and it isn’t what we voted for.” Faced with this you might expect the political parties to change their policies. But no.

Some take a stand:”We must stick to our principles.” This is what they say when they don’t want to do what the majority of voters want. They often add that to do so would just be “populist”. Of course, when what the public wants coincides with their policy it is: “Listening to/representing the will of the people”.

I used to naively think that a democratic government should do what most of the people want. Silly me.

Two revelatory moments lifted the curtain on what our politicians really think. One was Gordon Brown’s recorded labelling of a woman in Rochdale, who complained about the level of immigration from Eastern Europe, as a bigot. The second, closer to home, was Cllr Monika Juneja, formerly lead councillor for planning, saying that not building on the green belt was not an option: it was not if but where.

The common thread is the disdain with which many politicians in power view public opinion. In the wake of the by-election results have we heard politicians say: “Obviously we are out of touch with the majority view on this we had better reconsider our policy.”?

Not from those in charge we haven’t. Rather they talk as if they simply need to persuade us more effectively of the error of our ways. We are the ones who have got it all wrong. We simply don’t understand.

They cannot for a moment, it seems, contemplate the thought that they might have got it wrong, that they are the ones that don’t understand.

But this is clearly what many voters feel and it is this feeling that motivated those who voted UKIP in Clacton and those who voted Lib Dem in Lovelace.

Whether enough voters will follow suit next May remains to be seen but surely politicians at national and local level have got to be worried. So they should be; for many of us the end of a very long tether has been reached.

* ONS figs show net migration 2003-2012 to be more than two million.

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Responses to Opinion: What Has Clacton To Do With Guildford?

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    October 13, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    A well written article and let’s look at just some of the things which could have ‘saved our country’ from the above.

    Restriction on usury – by banks and pay-day lenders.
    Actually observing Para 1 of the schedule in the Data Protection Act which says we have the right to control who gets our data – rather than section 6 which permits every bank and credit card lender to know how we spend our money. Because this knowledge is legitimate interest….

    Maintaining our borders, such that we control who we let in – just entering our country on the off chance you can take a job off a much maligned young English job seeker – should not be sufficient reason to enter our country.

    Observing the meaning of the ancient word ‘marriage’.

    The abusive use of RIPA because it was badly worded.

    And what next?

    ANPR to check vehicle registrations, where everyone travels to and if they are speeding between London and Glasgow. – you couldn’t have done the journey in that time without speeding! Average speed cameras will be linked to a central computer so they will be able to check everyone’s movements….

    The introduction of smart metres such that your gas and electricity can be cut off if you don’t pay your bill — or vote for the correct political party.

    Police who close a roads for four hours or more so they can try and prove a “deliberate criminal event took place” when in fact it was simply an accident….

    And of course the highways and police spy cameras which place your home live on the internet even though it contravenes the CCTV code of practice.

    So folks we have a broken system both politically and legally. What we need is a few moral selfless people to stand as independants – not tied to the persuasive party whips such that the moral and honest system can be used to put this country to rights.

    If Australia, New Zealand and Canada can do it then why can’t we?

  2. Tony Edwards Reply

    October 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Guildford Tories are patently worried by the public backlash against their plans to ride rough-shod over Green Belt protection policies – hence the delay in the Local Plan until AFTER the election.

    In the interim they’ll promise to listen, take on board, meet up, talk, liaise, consult, deliberate and even try to understand. But they’ll be back in the old routine after the election if we are ever stupid enough to re-elect them in Guildford.

    The current ‘pause for thought’ is nothing more than a child-like ‘fein lights’, fingers crossed, and a pause for breath.

  3. Lisa Wright Reply

    October 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Well, firstly, let’s compare the towns.

    Clacton, lots of deprivation and unemployment.

    Guildford, ” recession? What recession? ” almost full employment and some of the country’s highest tax receipts.


    Investment in commuter towns has always been high, servicing the corporate organisations in London. Unfortunately, Clacton is just a bit further away and has largely been ignored by the government.

    Furthermore, the Europeans that come to the UK looking for a better life are generally not so well off and tend to reside in the towns where living costs are cheaper.

    The way forward has to include major changes in how our government changes taxes and benefits for our large corporations. If they were to encourage more companies to set up their back room services in towns that are crying out for work it would take the pressure off housing in Guildford and the other towns and cities that support London. Not to mention our roads and train congestion.

    The similarity between Clacton and Guildford is the lack of faith in our current politicians to solve our problems. Unless the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties start coming up with policies that benefit our hard working individuals and actually keep to their word, we shall see a huge change in local and central government.

  4. Garry Walton Reply

    October 14, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    The Guildford Conservative Council cannot all be fools.. or could they? They appear to be turkeys voting for Christmas. No one believes the Local Plan delay till after the election will change the entrenched views of Cllrs Mansbridge,Juneja and the rest of the developers friends on the council. What will change that plan is voting for a party that will protect The Green Belt and scrap the plan, the shortly to be launched Green Belt Party.

  5. Martin, sterling piece, thank you.
    Some corrections – the Liberal Democrat policy is clear – we would restore exit checks on UK Borders Agency. The Labour government removed this vital check which means that no net-immigration figure can be gathered. We would strengthen the powers of UKBA and ensure that visas were monitored correctly.
    We propose focussing on higher skilled migrants to boost the UK economy first and foremost.
    Certainly, we don’t bow to rhetoric proposed by other parties, or indeed the confusion promoted by some, but have a clear policy on a firm but fair approach to immigration.
    Locally, the Liberal Democrats are fighting to make sure Guildford is democratic, that the views of the people are reflected in their councillors and that the Council is run with integrity and a fair approach. It was a travesty of democracy that the Liberal Democrat Council motion to return to the committee system was rejected by the Conservatives.
    This is why we are succeeding, retaining the 20,000+ vote share held by the Liberal Democrats at the last three General Elections and seizing seats from the Conservatives.
    Many people say to me that the Lib Dems are falling apart, I simply cite our success in Lovelace and vote share and note that it’s not our members and MPs defecting, as Clacton demonstrates. Indeed, the Lib Dems remain very clear on what we stand for, and do not mislead with headline grabbing rhetoric that UKIP chose. If politics was that simple, we could solve all the problems immediately. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will change be.
    Kelly-Marie Blundell is the Lib Dem Parliamentary prospective candidate for Guildford.

  6. Stuart Barnes Reply

    October 14, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    There must be a chance for UKIP in the local elections here because of disquiet over the number of houses we seem to be going to get but I doubt if they have much chance in the General Election. However Cameron has dragged the Conservative party so far to the left and insulted many of his erstwhile supporters presumably to curry favour with the metropolitan guardianista/bbc types that I suppose anything is possible!

    • Garry Walton Reply

      October 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Stuart, Don’t underestimate the rage of the Great British voter. The Clacton & Lovelace defeats for the Conservatives show that immigration nationally and The Green Belt locally are hot issues and can unseat anyone. Parties that say one thing in a manifesto and then do the opposite like the ruling Conservative Guildford Council deserve to reap the whirlwind of their traditional supporters outrage.
      Ethics and Conduct in office could also be a deciding factor. Let’s save The Green Belt and clean up the Council at the same time.

  7. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    October 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

    When presenting to the last full Guildford Borough council meeting, David Reeve highlighted that 57% of the proposed housing need numbers were for people not currently living in the UK let alone Guildford. I suspect these figures to be true from what I have seen. There may be more in common with the Clacton of today and the issues raised on closer examination of the Draft Local Plan.

    What is saddening is the conclusion of many that the plan has been delayed beyond the next election for political reasons after all the Council leader said this was impossible just 12 weeks earlier.

    For the May elections trust is going to be key. Cameron talked about bringing trust back in to politics in Feb 2010 including ethics. Will people trust a group of Cllrs who read the NPPF the way they wanted/incorrectly to promote excessive development, who broke their electoral promise to protect the greenbelt, who argued against the public rather than genuinely accept their submissions in the chamber and in print or on radio who only changed their tact when ministerial guidance was clarified but not new.

    Who knows what will happen in May but for many I sense, at the ballot box, their natural political allegiances will be put to one side. Mr Frost and the late Mr Frost must be rubbing their hands in glee whatever the timing of the local plan.

  8. Lisa Wright Reply

    October 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    If the 50 + members of the public who attended the “How to be a Councillor” held at G Live on Tuesday all choose to stand for election in May, 2015-2019 could be an interesting term.

  9. Paul Kennedy Reply

    October 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks to Martin Giles for an interesting article comparing the Clacton and Lovelace by-elections. It is helpful to remind those who want to write the Lib Dems off that the 47% swing to the Lib Dems in Lovelace was bigger than the swing to UKIP in Clacton.

    The Lovelace result shows that the Lib Dems seemingly alone in Millmead are listening to and representing the concerns of local residents. In particular we recognise that there is no justification whatsoever for forcing communities in the Green Belt to accept massively disproportionate levels of additional unaffordable housing, which cannot be supported by our roads and infrastructure, simply in order to meet arbitrary targets.

    There is a link to immigration in both by-elections but it is unfair to characterise the Lib Dems as seeing no problem or wanting no controls at all. Indeed, we remain extremely frustrated that after nearly 5 years Theresa May has still failed to implement Coalition policy to reintroduce proper border controls including exit checks. And we have backed and will continue to seek firm but fair changes to the benefits system and the broader EU framework which will tackle potential abuse and reduce the scope for benefits tourism – whilst encouraging skilled workers. But we oppose isolationist actions such as leaving the EU which would affect jobs and restrict the reciprocal rights of UK citizens to reside, work, trade and travel in other European countries.

    House prices in Surrey are not being driven up by immigrants on benefits. Rather it is wealthy refugees from France, Spain, Italy and Russia who are buying up expensive properties in London and the South-East. What we need are mechanisms to reduce the scope for speculative housing bubbles, such as a more progressive and proportionate system of land value taxation than the existing regressive council tax. We also need to rebalance our economy away from the overheated South-East to other parts of the UK which desperately need greater investment for example through housebuilding.

    Paul Kennedy, is the Liberal Democrat Parlimentary prospective candidate for Mole Valley (including the Guildford borough wards of Lovelace, Send, Effingham, Horsley & Clandon, and Tillingbourne).

  10. Michael Bruton Reply

    October 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    There are some similarities between Clacton and Guildford. Both were once Tory strongholds with popular MPs who stood up for their constituents. Now one of these towns has a popular MP standing up for their constituents !

    Once politicians – either national or local – become detached from their communities, then voters turn against them at the first possible opportunity. That has certainly happened in Guildford.

    In their 2011 Borough Election manifesto, Guildford Conservatives promised to protect the Green Belt. They have reneged on that promise. They should have learned something from the Lovelace by-election but apparently not – just like the Bourbons.

    To date Guildford’s Conservative Council have spent reportedly £1,500,000 on the Local Plan. They were determined to plough ahead with it from the word go despite all reasonable objections. In fact Cllr Mansbridge set his ‘trajectory’ for 652 homes per annum which involved tearing up the Green Belt. That Plan though is now politically dead in the water and will have to be rethought at huge additional cost to we taxpayers.

    Reneging on promises and a massive waste of taxpayers’ money will not be forgiven by voters in May 2015. And deservedly so.

  11. Lisa Wright Reply

    October 21, 2014 at 8:53 am

    After just 5 minutes research,

    Population figures
    Guildford (2011). 137,200.
    Clacton 64,000

    Job vacancies within 5 miles
    Guildford 4532
    Clacton 453.

    So, whilst Guildford has double the population of Clacton, it has ten times the amount of job vacancies.

    When will government realise that the answer is to encourage employers to spread around the country and stop this ridiculous attachment to London.

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