Wednesday, 29 October 2008


In the second of our exclusive articles aimed at getting the party voice back into our city, we have the words and thoughts of Blurton's very own Conservative Party Activist Shaun Bennett.
Shaun is, like Labour's Tom Reynolds, a young, driven and enthusiastic party member, who knows his parties policies better than most!
I have followed his posts both on the Sentinel and on pitsnpots for a long time now and his reasoned debate has nearly had me turning blue a few times! I would like to thank Shaun for submitting his blog and wish him well for the future. I think the people of Trentham & Hanford could do a lot worse than voting Shaun in at the expense of "you know who!" at the next elections, they would be assured of getting a real Tory!

"I would like to begin by joining Tom Reynolds in his praise of Tony and the team who have set up the site to get local people involved in local political issues and perhaps in time more national debates too. I'm sure we've all thought that the voices of North Staffordshire have been ignored for too long, and I for one am very pleased that an outlet now exists for as many of those voices as possible to be heard. I'm particularly pleased that Tony and the team have gone out of their way to get a range of political persuasions involved without bias - be they Tories like me, Labour, Liberal or BNP.
These are actually quite exciting times for Stoke-on-Trent. The decision we made last Thursday is going to determine how the city is governed for at least another decade, and hopefully far beyond it. As a psephologist - hopefully in touch with the thoughts of people of the city - I never really had any doubt that the YES campaign to abolish the mayor was going to be successful. The demographic and procedural factors alone (such as differential turnout, the wording of the question and the process of casting the vote in a polling station rather than by post) were I think biased towards a YES outcome. The fact that people's natural reaction to an unpopular administration is to support change and my view that the YES campaign totally demolished all the main arguments for the mayoral system,and then a positive result seemed largely secured.
But then with the Sentinel's piece on the BNP being favourite to win the Leadership of the city just a day before polling, I have to admit that I briefly had cause to think again. As it turned out of course, the YES vote won by something of a landslide - albeit on a very low turnout. Whilst I agree with Cllr Reynolds that a low turnout is never desirable, I would gently remind him that Labour imposed a National Assembly upon the people of Wales on a turnout not far greater than we had last Thursday, and by a far, far closer margin. I can't be sure, but I'm convinced that the votes of Stoke South in particular were crucial and I would be interested to see how the votes broke down by constituency and by ward.
So should we decry having lost our right to directly elect the person who leads the council? Well I think not actually. We will GET our chance to decide who leads the council when the time comes to elect our councillors, in exactly the same way as the leadership of almost every other local authority in the country is decided. If we don't like what the leadership is doing we can vote to change it, and unlike under the mayoral system our votes in local elections will now be decisive and will have meaning once more. Perhaps now that the result of local elections will actually matter to the governance of the city, local parties will once more take an interest in winning them, as I'm sure we've all noticed a significant slide in the visibility of the various campaigns over the last 6 years.
My hope is that we can now make savings on the mayor's salary, give power back to councillors - which after all is what they should be elected to do - reintroduce some degree of order and democratic accountability in our political system and perhaps get clearer and - though let's not get too hopeful - better governance as a result. If we can see Mayor Meredith and his colleagues on the dole queue at the same time, well that's all for the better! The city never really wanted to adopt a mayoral system in the first place; certainly those that are most interested in local politics didn't want it. We started off by choosing the wrong type of mayoral system (since abolished by the government) and then not really giving it much of a chance. With a return to a system that we really wanted to adopt in the first place, perhaps things will change for the better - and I hope that we resist getting bogged down in a pointless debate about changing the system back again in the years to come.
I do however have two real concerns about the immediate future: First, I am concerned about this "Transition Board" that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I don't remember any discussion of a transition board during the referendum campaign? I don't know how this panel of the great and the good have been put onto the board? They certainly haven't been elected. I don't know what powers or authority this board will have or even what the point is of them being there; surely we already know the way forward for the city in terms of the political system? On the other hand, if it is going to be available to 'hold the hands' of our local political leaders and to give them cause to think twice before doing anything stupid, then it can only be a good thing. The fact that it only seems to be in place for the next 6 months or so should probably ease our concerns about its being, since it is after all only temporary.
My second concern is however much more serious. It seems that now that we have voted YES to getting rid of the elected mayor's office, the sitting councillors will now start to discuss who is going to lead the city ahead of a big decision next May. In the short term at least, the people DON'T get any say over who that person is going to be. The democratic principle of the Leader and Cabinet system is that the electorate can still indirectly choose the leadership of the council by voting for councillors - the implication being that the party or group with most support delivered by the electorate as seats on the council will take the leadership. Unfortunately, the councillors who are there at present were elected under the old mayoral system. They were NOT elected to form an administration or to take the leadership of the authority. And yet it is this group of people who will now choose the Leader without any reference to the electorate.
In my view, there should be an all out council election next May or June so that people will be able to vote knowing that they are voting for a party or group to lead the council as well as an individual local councillor to represent them. At present we have expressed our preference for a local representative but not for who we want to lead the council. And if rumours that the next council election will not be held until ward boundaries change in 2011 are true, we could find ourselves in a situation in which whoever is chosen to lead the authority could do so without any test of public opinion for the next two and a half years!
An all out council election would not be extraordinary, given the circumstances. We have them whenever ward boundaries change - and so we will almost certainly be having one in 2011 anyway. In 1996 when the City Council became a Unitary Authority, a full council election was held then even though all that was changing was the extent of the powers of the authority. Are we really expected to accept that there will be no full election at a time when it is not just the powers of the authority that is changing but the entire executive leadership of the city? These councillors were not elected to lead us, they were elected to hold to account the person that led us; how can they get away with assuming power in their own right without an election? We may well find that the councillors who people thought suitable to represent them as a scrutineer will be different to those that they want to represent them now that the choice for a potential government. I can certainly name a couple of wards where a change of councillor will now be wanted by local people - and some of those changes may well affect the names in the frame to become Leader of the authority!
Nationally, the official Conservative position seems to be to support elected mayors. Of course, they would never attempt to enforce that opinion onto local parties that thought differently and that is what happened in the case of the local party in Stoke. Like all the main parties, except for the BNP, we were totally divided between the YES and NO options. Perhaps also like the other main parties - certainly Labour - the division goes much deeper than over the mayoralty alone. Issues of group leadership, support for the cross-party coalition and certain controversial policy decisions have all been tearing the main parties apart for a number of years now. Personally, I believe that the root cause of many of those problems have come from the demands of the political system under the elected mayor.
The YES vote last Thursday gives me great cause for hope and optimism for the future. The quality of our elected representatives may not improve dramatically under any system, and that will be in the hands of the people. To a large extent as voters we are the makers of our own fortunes,and we cannot really complain when we continue to elect the same people that we constantly condemn as being poor. In the short term we may well see a great era of instability as the smaller parties benefit from the 'cross party coalition' of Mayor Meredith. But in the long term I now can see the beginnings of reunification for both the Conservative and Labour parties. The City may never again return to the two party politics or even one and a half party politics that we have enjoyed for the past 30 years. In many ways that may even be a good thing, but I can at least see the Conservative and Labour parties starting to become competitive again if they really want to be and if they are prepared to cut off the dead wood and get back in touch with real voters. Only time will tell how this story unfolds..."

Shaun Bennett BA (Hons), MA Former Deputy Chairman, Stoke-on-Trent Conservatives.


Tory Boy said...

I love the Tories, they keep the oiks in their place. If they get into power I hope chav hunting is legalised, the working classes stopped from voting, and workhouses are introduced for underage mums. I'm sick of all these do-gooders who think the lower classes should have rights. I mean aren't these chavs a bunch of hypocrites when they say the same about do-gooders standing up for gays, ethnic minorities, and women's rights?

Former Town Clerk's Dept said...

Okay, let's get our teeth into the issues.

Google search Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report - Ward Councillors and Community Leadership. Have a read of that and lets see what the picture is generally and what we can recommend as good ideas.

For me, the issue is not whether Tories/Labour/Lib Dems are in bed together, its the quality of what they're doing together. At the moment it seems its sadly lacking any quality, but there is an opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of local democracy. Lets have a chat about that!

BNP NAZI BOY said...

I love the BNP, they keep the blacks in their place. If they get into power I hope Muslim hunting is legalised, the non-whites stopped from voting, and workhouses are introduced for them. I'm sick of all these do-gooders who think the blacks and Muslims should have rights. I mean aren't these blacks a bunch of ungrateful scroungers when Trevor Phillips stands up for gays, ethnic minorities, and women's rights?

nita said...

Shaun, I would like to thank you for your contribution. You make some very good points, and has cleared up some concerns I had on the Leader system being chosen.

Hopefully, the right person will be chosen, and he/she will have the knowledge and skills to move the city forward.

As you rightly say, it is important that we hear from all the political parties.

Hopefully, people will start to take more interest in politics once again, and get out and make their vote count.

nicky said...

Tony, I agree that I think Shaun would be a good and active councillor for Trentham. In Trentham there are only two practical choices, independent or conservative (labour and libdem gain very few votes). I was quite happy voting for Terry Follows the last time (sorry Shaun) and he is an active councillor. But if Ibbs and his influence could be ousted from the tories then voting for Shaun could be a viable option depending on tory policies and their plans in council. Trouble is, whilst Ibbs hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell in Trentham, he will stand elsewhere and still and up in tory control.

Shaun, a great thorough blog. It is interesting what you are saying about various possibilities for elections. It seems to me with a big change it would be reasonable to have local elections, so if there is a precedent for this maybe it could be considered here. I had thought we would get a local election in 2010, but you are mentioning 2011 following boundary changes. That really feels too long to wait.
I agree with your hopes for the leader system, that it could give power back to councillors, reintroduce order and democratic accountability and perhaps achieve clearer and better governance.

Johnnyf said...

Thanks for your comments, I have never been nor will ever be a Tory but you show your commitment to the city and raise a number of important issues, not least the need for a full council election next May. Now that the leadership system has changed I would have thought that this would be essential. We should put pressure on to achieve this.

Gary Elsby said...

Shaun hides the truth.

His National Party agreed to let Roger Ibbs form a Conservative/Independent group.

Vote Conservative, get Ross Irving.
Vote Roger, get Conservative.
Vote Con/Ind get Roger (Tory)
Why no honsety?

Done because of the Mayoral system and to grab power for Conservatives at all costs.

This is why BSF program is in place and why schools are closing.

Let's not have any nonsense that a refeendum took place because the Mayor wanted one, it is because the local Labour Party demanded one in a clause to accepting arkMeredith as our candidate. No Conservative involvement took place. Democracy4Stoke then delivered 10,000 signatures demanding that referendum take place.

The bottom line is that Shaun only writes of structures and not policy and therefore his writing only confuses the argument of local political parties coming to the fore, just as our heroes sitting on the Transition Board/Governance Commission wish.

Shaun argues that WE now have no say. And...? Shaun didn't vote for Cameron (not allowed) and I didn't vote for Brown (allowed, but not required).
Why does he argue for a different form of local Government than the model of National Government, when he voted EXACTLY for it?

You are confusing me,Shaun and politics is so very simple.

PS. Name me 1 Conservative Councillor who the Conservative Party will stop at all costs from becoming Leader and let's name the Labour Councillor who will be stopped at all costs.

BNP and proud said...

Who's Shaun Bennet? He's no councillor, he's a nothing.

Anonymous said...

The YES men, Mark Davis and Tom Reynolds will work overtime to stop Mike Barnes from becoming leader, that's for certain. He is responsible for getting rid of their I mean the Mayor. Shithouses.

Tory Boy said...

Legalise chav hunting now!!

Let's have the horses and hounds racing through such shiteholes as Shabby Abbey, Bentilee, Chell Heath, Meir, Sandord Hill, and all the other disgustingly chavvy areas of the city.


warren said...

The only good thing the Conservatives would do is to alow fox hunting. Them red bastards, the local foxes I meen, not New Labour, had a good go at my lawn last night. Then tryed to get in the wheely bin after old chicken bones. Had me up at 2am,god dame dreadfull rackett going on, dog going crackers, wife whinging her bag off, and I think they had a go at the cat from three doors down, the foxes that is, not the dog and the wife, becouse it was walking with a limp this morning. Anyway, bring back the hunt, that would sort it out, only thing the Conservatives are uesfull at. Shaun comes from Blurton right, and I grew up there and was still liveing there in the miners strick of 1984/85, now that was the Conservatives falt, it ripped the heart right out of Blurton and its never been the same.

brooneyes said...

Fox hunting is the domain of the
cowardly and mentally challenged.

Anonymous said...

Yes Craig,
We all know which hunt you lot prefer! Paki or Black hunting round 'em up and ship 'em off! You are a pathetic excuse for a political party, hate, hate and more hate! Talk about mentally challenged, could there be a better description of the BNP?
Shaun has raised a load of points in his blog and that's all you can come up with you tosser! Maybe it's because you lot are only a shitload further right than the tories! Crawl back under your stone with your GIRO, wimp!

Tory Boy said...

Yes, and we need to ban that gang of dole scroungers commonly known as the BNP. It makes me laugh to hear Councillor Batkin moan about foreigners but the lazy twat can't be arsed getting one himself. No there's an idea, let the dogs loose at the dole office. Tally Ho!! Chocs away!!

Shaun Bennett said...

Just a few points in reply to the debate here, if I may.

First, I suspect that Tory Boy and BNP Nazi Boy are actually the same person? Certainly the two comments seem very similar...I think they're ironic?

Second, No hard feelings Nicky. I know many people in Trentham-many of whom voted Conservative previously but who said that they just couldn't vote for us this time for obvious reasons. Privately, I warned last October that we were going to lose the ward and I was actually offered East Valley (which we won). I argued however that as I'd never been to East Valley and lived at the other end of the city it would not be right for me to stand there. Even though I live just over the border of the Trentham ward, I still feel that prospective councillors should have an interest in the areas that they stand for and so that is why I made the conscious choice to fight and lose. I fully understand Cllr Follows victory, and indeed I have told him that he probably deserved to win. Perhaps one day in the future things will be different.

Third, Gary Elsby, you seem to be confused very easily if I may say so. I noticed on the Sentinel website not long ago that you were accusing me of saying the exact opposite of what I had in fact said. Once again you seem to be doing the same here. I never said that the mayor wanted a referendum to abolish his office, and I never said anything about who achieved the referendum for us, so you're picking a fight where there isn't one I'm afraid.

If you'd read my blog more carefully, the main point of calling for a full council election would have become all too clear for you. The Leader and Cabinet system depends on local council elections for the leaders democratic mandate. For the next year and half to two and a half years though there will be no election, and yet the Leader is to be appointed from the present set of councillors who were elected under a DIFFERENT political system. There is therefore no democratic mandate in the Leader that they choose. I'd have thought that as a former Labour party council candidate you would be able to understand these points, but clearly the local Labour party has fallen into desperation.

As for the Conservative/Independent Alliance, I would be surprised if the national party had intervened knowing that they would probably have lost a couple of councillors if they had. You could argue that we'd be better off without them, but they probably prefer to keep the seats and follow a concensus approach. Whilst we're at it, I can certainly think of a couple of Conservative councillors who I'd go to any length to stop from leading the council, but since this is your game I insist that you go first and give us a name from the Labour heirarchy.

Finally, BNP and proud. What can I say, I'm just an ordinary member of the public living in a democracy who thinks that he has a right to express an opinion. Mabye a BNP administration would have a problem with that but we're not there yet. And if you really do have to accuse me of being a nobody, and if you really are proud to be BNP then at least have the courage and the pride to give us your name and be somebody yourself!

BNP NAZI BOY said...

Legalise Muslim hunting now!!

Let's have the horses and hounds racing through such shiteholes as Shelton, Etruria, Cobridge, Tunstall, Normacot, and all the other disgustingly ethnic areas of the city.

Heil Hitler!!!!

Tory Boy said...

Not the same person but probably the same sort of wind. There's too many serious people here on pitsnpots and not enough light heartedness. I would add that I don't believe that most Tories genuinely believe in the extreme views I was sending up.

warren said...

Well done Craig just ignere the foolsome coment from him with no name,and got it in one about the conservative surport for fox hunting. I quite like haveing the little red buggers around, just so long as they are not ripping my lawn up and trying to enter my wheely bin at a strange hour of the night. Shaun, where do you stand on this, pro or anti.

BNP NAZI BOY said...

I'm being totally serious, and I'm really a memeber, hence why hidnig behind the name. Send them all packing.

Anonymous said...

Barnes for leader - stop the BNP.

BNP NAZI BOY said...

Walker for leader, bring Balkans style ethnic cleansing to Stoke on Trent.

Gary Elsby said...

Shaun, a number of points.
Your blog was very even handed and well thought out for a democratic way forward and I have no problem with your analysis that this current crop will be technically at fault within the next few years.

You blame me for that and I remain baffled.

Your even handed blog was too even simply because the Conservative Party, both Nationally and locally conspired together to form a Con/ind alliance.

This was done to fight Labour on two fronts, when we have enough with the BNP. The end result is that the natural party of leadership in this City, Labour, fights all battles everywhere and schools close as a consequence of our (my) failure to win the vote.

I point out MORE fairly that it was Labour that dmended a referendum and no-one else. It is Labour that took democracy by the scruff of the neck and forced the issue.

We are where we are and I ask you to denounce the Con/Ind alliance and nail your colours to the mast.

Yoyu may not have hidden the truth as I suggested, but you chose not to tell the whole story and that will always spark a response from someone like me that does what someone like you does and that is to stand for public office.

Labour got it right locally and I remain part of that view.

You may be right that I don't have what it takes to be a lowly public representative for the City and maybe the electorate know this more than you but I shall keep on trying.

Shaun Bennett said...

Sorry if I was a bit hard on you Gary, but I did feel that you were always attacking me for things that I hadn't said, and I find that frustrating.

Many of the points you have raised are correct, but I really wasn't trying to say anything about the history of who wanted the referendum. Like many Labour people (and yes Ibbs too) I campaigned against the mayor 6 years ago. I never wanted it and I haven't changed my mind. Frankly, I don't care WHO was to blame for bringing it in, or indeed assisting to get rid of it, I just thank goodness that we have.

I'm actually quite pleased that you thought my piece to be even-handed because I think that they often make the best pieces for debate. No doubt I could have gone on about how wonderful my party is and it would have been ignored or attacked by all but those who agree with me. That approach reaches no-one and whilst we all like a bit of party knock about, thats not really what I wanted to do here.

If I think that my party is wrong, I am perfectly happy to say so. Yes I will condemn the alliance AND the coalition. I wanted neither, and that is no secret. Unfortunately, internal council maneuvouring seem to be more important than our principle. Sometimes that can be justified if the benefits outweigh the negatives. But in this case my feelings are that they do not.

I certainly hope that you will continue trying to be elected for your party, just as I will. My goodness me, I've tried often enough; and being Labour you've probably got more chance of being elected in this city before me!

Warren asked me my views on fox hunting; I have to admit that I've always been against it in principle as a cruel and barbaric practice. But then again, ideally I'd rather the poor things were not killed at all. Of course, I know that that is not possible and some people have argued that hunting is less cruel than the alternatives. If that could be proven beyond doubt then I could reluctantly accept it. But otherwise, I've always agreed with Ann Widdecombe and the minority of Tory MPs that it should be banned.

T Cope said...

Shaun, you have no chance you deluded tosser.
I predict the BNP will sweep to power and be rid of filth like you!

warren said...

Thank you for your responce Shaun, it proves that there are human beings in the rank and file of the Conservative Party, meny good points made in you blog, I admit that, but it will take a lot more to convince meny round hear that its a way forward both on a local level and as a country. Terry good god man, if that realy you whats up, no need for that at all.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that's really Terry, Warren. I mean click on his profile!

Shaun Bennett said...

It really is rather pitiful when people can't find anything to say but abuse-particularly if they are not brave enough to do it under their own name. Its very sad but they are universally despised by all sides I think.

To my mind, the worry I have about the abusive posting by the person posing as T Cope is that they are clearly anti BNP, but are posing as a BNP supporter and attempting to be as nasty and abusive as possible to discredit that party. I'm sure its not the first time that that has been done either. I suppose its possible that it is a genuine BNP supporter, but (I may be being naive) I don't think they could be so stupid to associate themselves publicly with that level of debate. If they are, I would certainly urge the local BNP office to have a good long look at their membership.

Presuming that it is a fake BNP posting, whatever we think about indivdual parties, are we really not able to undermine them by legitimate debate and without resorting to underhand tactics? If not then can we really be surprised when people vote for them?