A week before we could all hug each other again, 3 months into a successful vaccination programme and 1 day after British gunboats successfully chased off the French Armada of fishing communists besieging our beloved tax haven of Jersey we had the first elections since 2019 when Boris Johnson ‘Got Brexit Done’ and the evil Jeremy Corbyn with his ‘moral principles’ had been seen off. Was it a big surprise that the BBC, I mean, the Tories had such a good result? Despite being inept to the extreme in the early stages of the pandemic, not attending key meetings, urging people to shake hands with Covid victims and then catching it himself then only 3 months later re-opening the country too soon with his ‘eat out to help spread the virus’ campaign, then locking down too late when the virus re-emerged in the autumn, Boris Johnson was nevertheless the Nations saviour for being there when the vaccine light at the end of the tunnel showed a way out of this life blocking shit show. Never mind bodies piling high, never mind over budget redecorations at Downing street and never mind Brexit turning out, well, like most people predicted it would. The Tories won the local English elections and the one Parliamentary by election but, although you might not notice it in the media, didn’t win in Wales-Labour did, didn’t win in Scotland -the SNP & the case for Independence did and didn’t even win the majority of Mayors-Labour did. Labour Leader Keir Starmer, looking a bit like a rabbit caught in a media trap headlights on the Friday night after Hartlepool, didn’t wait until the better news of the next couple of days, but jumped to attention to take the blame. Then transfer it to Angela Rayner, then block the Sunday good news of Labour gains with a botched focus on a cosmetic Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. So what do we make of all this? Let’s find out……
In Somerset we were meant to have a County Council election. However, these were cancelled as the battle for which ‘unitary’ outcome hots up and sitting county councillors are granted an extra year while people think about it. Not a very democratic solution to say the least. However, apart from the Police and Crime Commission election, which everyone had a ballot for but only 30% of us chose to use, there were a string of other elections across the county -largely reflecting the National trend of Tory wins. But here are some of them and their consequences.
It came down to a penalty shoot out between Labour and Conservative in the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner elections and the Tory just about grabbed it on the 2nd preference votes. Five candidates contested the election and votes were counted by district and then all added together to get a single result for the whole Avon and Somerset region. After the first round the top 2 contenders faced each other in a final and the 2nd preference votes of the losing 3 parties were redistributed in this classic example of SV (Supplementary vote) Proportional representation. In round 1 the Tories came top with 136,988 votes and Labour second with 93,495. That meant the 164,008 people who hadn’t chosen either of the winners could have a second crack at it. In the second round Labour picked up a further 52,790 votes but the Tories gained another 24,331 keeping them at the top and their candidate Mark Shelford winning the election.
Whilst the people of Somerset might have missed out on the chance to have their say on Somerset County Council and it’s Unitary machinations on Thursday May 6th there are nevertheless some crucial elections happening across our county -not least the key role of Police and Crime Commissioner, where Labour’s candidate KERRY BARKER is in prime position to grab the post. Kerry put Labour in 2nd place in 2016 and narrowly lost a run off contest with outgoing independent Sue Mountstevens-who isn’t standing this time. Kerry needs to see off a challenge from the Tories to grab the victory and this means he needs ALL the Labour and tactical votes in Somerset he can get to add to the extremely large Labour vote coming in from Bristol, where they’re also voting for councillors and Mayor. So your vote really matters!
Kerry Barker. Labour Party candidate for Avon and Somerset Police and Crime commissioner, calls for a new focus on community-based policing, with teams of officers based locally. Mr Barkers said, “ if elected, I would put an immediate halt to the downgrading of locally based policing facilities. I would retain Chard Police station, which is currently scheduled for closure . I am also committed to keeping the custody suite in Yeovil Police station. The loss of local cells would mean officers having to drive people that they arrest as far away as Bristol, which would be a massive waste of police time. Many people have told me that they are fed up with the police failing to deal with local crime – so much so that they no longer bother to report some crimes. They want a return to visible policing delivering on the issues that worry their communities.
Unite the union has said that it is committed to fight to save as many jobs as possible following the announcement that Argos intends to close its distribution centre in Bridgwater, Somerset and supportive statements have been issued by the Mayor of Bridgwater and the Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, both UNITE members. Unite understands that around 230 jobs are at risk at the site which is now earmarked for closure in 2022 and is seeking urgent meetings with the company at a senior level and will be exploring all avenues to preserve jobs. The union will be demanding to see the business case behind the closure decision, while also exploring if the number of job losses can be reduced or whether affected workers can be redeployed. As Argos, which is now part of the Sainsbury’s group, owns the site, the union will also be exploring if there is the feasibility of it being redesignated for an alternative use, which would also preserve jobs.
New data released by the Labour Party shows that rural England is projected to lose more than £255 million this year alone, pushing family farms to the brink of closure as a result of the Government’s rushed withdrawal of the Basic Payments Scheme for farmers. The party’s analysis, based on figures from the Rural Payments Agency, lays bare the scale of impact on rural economies by what Labour say is the Government’s ‘reckless approach’ to the scheme. The move could risk as many as 9500 agricultural jobs. Labour supports the principle of reforming farm payments, but has spoken out about the Government’s decisions which are leading to a cliff edge, with 76 per cent of farmers saying the new payments won’t be enough. The new environmental land management payment schemes – intended to replace the current Basic Payments Scheme – are still being designed, tested and piloted, with no plans for replacement payments being available until 2022/23 at the earliest.
The campaign to save St Andrew’s ward, supported by Save Somerset’s Community Services, began over a year ago now on 29th Feb 2020, but the focus on saving St Andrew’s ward began in earnest on 24th September 2020, when the CCG announced, as expected, that the ward would be closed and the beds moved to Yeovil, in spite of the opposition of 52% of those who responded to the consultation run by “Fit for my Future”. The campaign is now starting to have an effect! Organiser Emma King says “We have been very pleased to note that the closure of the ward has now been put back to “no earlier than summer 2022”. We have also found that the CCG, under severe pressure from our campaign, has e-mailed councillors to put ‘their side of the story’, even though they fail to mention the results of the consultation (whilst making a lot of the fact a consultation was held). They also say they ‘never send anyone out of county for treatment’, but, if that is true, we know that people in crisis in the Bath and North East Somerset area are often sent hundreds of miles for treatment, when they could just travel the short distance to Wells if the facilities were available to them!”
Commenting on job losses and pay cuts at British Gas (today – Wed 14 April) Terry Ledlie, Chair of Yeovil constituency Labour Party said, “Centrica, who now own British Gas, has behaved deplorably. They have imposed a pay-cut of 15 per cent on their 5,000 engineers and have sacked nearly 400 staff who would not accept this massive salary reduction. This is absolutely appalling corporate misbehaviour. Labour believes that employers should treat their workers fairly and with respect. To do otherwise is both immoral and bad for business, as a climate of fear badly undermines motivation and productivity. Imagine if all our employers behaved this badly. They would simply drive our economy into the ground, with all the hardship and misery that would bring.”
Terry continued “British Gas used to be our flagship national provider. Today it has fallen a very long way in our estimation. The company should set out to make a new start with its employees and their trade unions, but they will have an awful lot of work to do!”
At today’s special meeting of Sedgemoor District Council, members voted 42-0 to back the critical response to the County’s controversial One Somerset option and offer support to the united position of the 4 districts, in the form of STRONGER SOMERSET concerning the proposed local Government reforms. As the 19th April deadline for the consultation approaches, councillors of all parties agreed that the One Somerset proposal will not give greater value for money, nor will it provide strong strategic leadership, does little to address how it plans to reduce inequality, level up and meet other national policy drivers and it cannot offer sustainability of service delivery into the future thereby presenting a risk to residents, particularly the most vulnerable and concludes that the One Somerset proposal represents a serious risk of deteriorating services that will fail Somerset’s residents and communities.