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Barely 48 hours left to register to vote in the by-election (or get a postal vote)

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If you’ve moved house, or into the area, recently you may not be on the electoral register. You will lose your vote in the June 23 by-election unless you register by midnight on Tuesday (June 7th). Click here to register.

If you’ll be away from home on June 23rd, click here to download an application for a postal vote, print it off and return immediately (to arrive by Wednesday June 8th) to

Electoral Registration Officer
Blackdown House
Border Road
Honiton
Heathpark Industrial Estate
EX14 1EJ

Seaton & Axminster are just ‘villages’ according to ignorant Tory publicists

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Fed up with reading about Tiverton police station? Wondering why Tory leaflets have nothing to say about Seaton or Axminster?

Well their latest proclaims their two-year plan ‘for Tiverton, Honiton and the surrounding villages‘. It reads like it’s been written by some parachuted-in advertising man who’s no idea that Seaton and Axminster are substantial towns, not much smaller than Honiton.

Tory by-election candidate uses hospital her party took the beds out of for photo-opportunity

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Conservative by-election candidate Helen Hurford – who has yet to comment publicly on anything, including Boris Johnson’s future – is pictured outside Seaton Hospital under the heading ‘Supporting Our Local NHS’ in her latest leaflet.

This is the hospital from which the beds were removed in 2017 after

  • chronic Tory underfunding forced the Devon NHS to close community hospital beds;
  • Tory pressure to save the threatened Tory MP in Sidmouth led the NHS to change its plans to close Seaton’s beds instead;
  • Conservative councillors on the Health Scrutiny Committee blocked our move to refer the closures for further consideration.

Please remember this when you vote on June 23rd. Far from ‘securing more nurses for our area’, Conservative underfunding and lack of support for nursing means that local hospitals are chronically understaffed. The NHS probably couldn’t find the nurses to re-open the Seaton Hospital ward if they wanted to.

New Statesman cites Independent & Lib Dem strength in local politics as reason why Tories will lose

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Ben Walker in the New Statesman has great maps showing that Tiverton & Honiton has form for voting for candidates other than the Conservatives – much more than in North Shropshire where the Lib Dems succeeded in overthrowing a 23,000 Tory majority (Neil Parish’s was 24,000).

How to help in the by-election

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The poster at the front of our house!

Personally, I’m supporting the Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord in the by-election on 23 June.

We’ve got a poster at the front of our house – why not put one up to show your support for the candidate who can take this seat from the Conservatives?

If you’d like to help with leafleting, canvassing, phone calls or office work, you can let the Lib Dem team know here

or contact me via email, phone or the comments.

In the by-election we can have our say on this travesty of a government

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My column in today’s Midweek Herald: It’s now pretty clear that however disgraceful Boris Johnson’s behaviour, Conservative MPs will not remove him. The most telling new revelations are about the Downing Street cleaner who was not allowed to visit her mother in hospital because of lockdown rules, but had to clean up the mess left by Johnson’s rule-breaking parties; and about the security guard being mocked by the PM’s staff for doing his job and pointing out that rules should be observed.

There was a time when any minister, let alone a prime minister, would have resigned for presiding over such outrageous behaviour. There was a time when Conservatives claimed to represent standards in public life, and when MPs would have forced a disgraced prime minister out. 

Our chance to make a difference

These times are gone, alas, and in most parts of the country people are pulling their hair out because there seems to be nothing they can do about this travesty of a government, so preoccupied with its own survival that for months it ignored the terrible cost of living crisis which is plunging families and pensioners into poverty.

But here in many parts of East Devon – Seaton, Axminster, Honiton and the villages around – we can do something. In three weeks time, we can vote in a by-election to send a message to Boris Johnson and the country that enough is enough.

This is an election which people who don’t always bother voting should make sure they turn out for. It’s an election to make sure you’re on the electoral register (if not, register to vote now), and to apply for a postal vote for if you’ll be away on 23 June. 

Tactical voting

It’s an election, too, where we need to vote tactically for the candidate best placed to defeat the Conservative, since on the morning after a Tory victory here, Johnson will conclude that the electorate will put up with anything – literally anything – that he throws at us.

When I first mooted tactical voting two weeks ago, I didn’t say who to vote for, but Sean Day Lewis from Colyton (writing in this paper) assumed I meant the Liberal Democrats rather than Labour. I think that’s telling – the sense that the Lib Dems are the people who can win is already out there even among people who’d like it to be Labour. Exeter’s Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, has also given a heavy hint: it’s the Lib Dems who can win this by-election, not his own party.

Indeed the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has drawn the same conclusion. Labour’s national party are not putting resources into this by-election because they know they can’t win. Starmer has an informal pact with the Lib Dems because they know that working together, they can help put the British people out of the misery that the Tories have created. 

Horses for courses

We should welcome this outbreak of common sense among the parties. It’s the same approach we already have in local politics, where my own East Devon Alliance of Independents has teamed up with the Lib Dems and Greens to give EDDC its first non-Conservative administration in 50 years.

I empathise with Labour’s Liz Pole and the Greens’ Gill Westcott, both good candidates who in other circumstances might well gain my vote as their parties have in the past. As an Independent, I’ve worked with Lib Dem, Labour and Green members on the County Council, and I know that there is much more that unites us all, and separates us all from Johnson’s Conservatives, than divides us.

When it comes to the by-election, it’s horses for courses. We need to make sure this corrupt government does not win here again. Personally, I would feel sick if Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat candidate, lost by a few votes on June 23 while I’d given my vote to a Labour or Green candidate who had no hope of winning.

Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord

Neil Parish wasn’t the worst Tory MP – but he still let us down

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My column in this week’s Midweek Herald

Neil Parish

Neil Parish let himself and us all down badly and it is right that he has gone.

I have no desire to dance on his political grave but it is timely to assess his contribution, in order to weigh up whether we need to replace him with yet another Conservative or whether we need someone radically different as the MP for the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, which includes the Seaton and Axminster areas of East Devon.

Neil was by no means the worst Tory MP. After all, he eventually did the decent thing and left, while Boris Johnson, who broke the law and lied to Parliament on multiple occasions, and Matt Hancock, who with Johnson consigned tens of thousands of care home residents to avoidable deaths, are still brazening it out.

Neil sees himself as having been a good constituency MP. His last (Zoom) meeting before he was found out was, apparently, with EDDC leaders to discuss a ‘levelling up’ fund bid including Seaton’s seafront. He didn’t always follow through, however. When the New Devon Clinical Commissioning Group proposed to close the beds in Seaton and Honiton hospitals in 2017, he promised to ‘hold their feet to the fire’. But when his Tory colleagues on the County Council voted down the referral which could have kept the beds open, Neil was nowhere to be seen.

I found it was the same on other issues that came my way as Seaton & Colyton’s County Councillor. I sat with Neil in meetings with residents in Wilmington and Colyford to discuss crossings which would alleviate their road problems. Neil made constructive noises, as you expect your MP to do, but when the going got tough, he was no longer around.

Neil was pretty much the ultimate Tory loyalist, with all that implies. As a farmer, he knew that Brexit was a bad idea for the country and for Devon, and he supported Remain in 2016. But aware that most local Tories backed Brexit, he made himself pretty much invisible during the campaign. Afterwords, he jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, slavishly following the twists and turns of first Theresa May’s and then Boris Johnson’s policies. Only recently, as it became evident that Brexit is indeed a disaster for farming, fishing and small businesses, did Neil start to criticise it again.

Neil’s rare rebellions against the party line were often reactionary, like his opposition to same-sex marriage and rewilding. He would vote for the government every time when it proposed to take away people’s rights, recently backing its restrictions on the right to protest and voting rights and its cruel scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Whatever his good points, Neil was a parliamentary yes-man. In next month’s by-election, Tiverton and Honiton needs to get itself a no-woman, someone who will stand up against the travesty of a government which now rules over us, and standup for all the people in this area who are suffering from the mess it is making of living standards and the NHS. 

It’s a shame that the excellent Claire Wright has ruled herself out, but Tiverton and Honiton’s new MP needs to be independent-minded, even if they’re not an Independent. The by-election is the area’s opportunity to get its first non-Conservative after literally a century of Tory yes-men. By-elections are great levellers, and that 24,000 Tory majority could vanish if people who want change unite around a single candidate.

We will need to vote tactically to give the best-placed opposition candidate a real chance. Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and East Devon Alliance supporters should be prepared to abandon tribalism and back the best candidate to win. In the coming days we will find out who the likely candidates are. 

Meanwhile, make sure you’ll be able to vote – Register to Vote now! 

Cathy Gardner’s court victory for care home victims

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Cathy Gardner and her late father

I wrote this column for next week’s Midweek Herald, just before the Neil Parish story broke

Not once, but three times, the government issued policy instructions in 2020 which broke the law because they knowingly exposed vulnerable care home residents to the risk of Covid – causing many avoidable deaths. This was the judgement handed down by the High Court last week in the landmark case brought by my formidable friend Dr Cathy Gardner, an East Devon Alliance councillor in Sidmouth and former EDDC Chair, whose own father was one of the victims.

Yet rather than apologise for their failings, the disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the serial-liar prime minister Boris Johnson doubled down on the very claim which the judges had definitively disproved in their judgement, that they ‘didn’t know’ that people without Covid symptoms could transmit the disease. 

The judges pointed out that the government’s own Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, was one of many experts who had publicly highlighted the danger of asymptomatic transmission of Covid well before the government issued the first of its fatal policy instructions – which forced care homes to take hospital patients without their having been tested and without facilities to keep them separate from other vulnerable residents.

As Seaton’s county councillor at the time, I was kept informed about the devastating consequences in our area. One care home in the town saw eight residents die in a short period. A care home worker, who had come from the other side of the world to care for our elderly people, also died. There were fatal outbreaks in Axminster and Sidmouth, and across Devon and the entire country.

Not all of the deaths could have been stopped. But many were undoubtedly caused by the reckless, callous and – we now know – illegal policy which Hancock and Johnson pursued. It has taken two years of campaigning by Cathy and her co-applicant, who also lost her father, to achieve this measure of justice for the victims.

Unfortunately their case is not only of historic interest. The two Omicron waves of Covid, the first peaking in January and the second which has only just started to wane, have seen many new outbreaks in care homes in Devon and around the country. Unlike in 2020, most residents and staff are now triple-vaccinated and there are infection controls, but there have still been too many deaths.

The charge against the government now is not that it is directly introducing Covid into care homes, but that it is allowing the disease to circulate in society at a far higher level than is tolerable or necessary, and so still causing many avoidable deaths. Currently over 3,000 per week are dying from Covid – more than from flu in a whole year. Even if this figure declines, this year’s total will certainly exceed 50,000 and may be closer to 100,000, on top of the 200,000 who have already died.

The policy is supposed to be living with Covid, not dying with it. It should mean practical public health measures to restrict infection, like proper ventilation and mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces – including public transport – as was happening in Spain when I visited in March, as it still does in many countries.

As immunity from the first three vaccinations wanes, the second-booster programme becomes ever more important. I was at Seaton Hospital this week to get my new vaccination, having seen a friend struggle with two months of illness after getting infected – it was touch and go whether she would be hospitalised. But why has this booster been restricted to the over-75s, when doctors are concerned about the large numbers of 50-75 year olds who are ending up in hospital?

The government’s fatal neglect of care home residents in 2020 has become a general neglect of health needs in 2022. Johnson has tried to brush off Cathy’s vindication in the High Court: what will it take to really make him listen? 

Independent East Devon Alliance statement on Neil Parish & the by-election

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I’ve just issued this statement to the press on behalf of the Independent East Devon Alliance:

Like most people in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, the Independent East Devon Alliance is shocked by Neil Parish’s actions and believes that he has done the right thing by resigning. The forthcoming by-election is an opportunity to choose an independent-minded, local MP who will stand up for the people of the area and oppose the debasement of public life by the present Conservative government. We will be consulting our members about the best way to achieve this.  

About the Independent East Devon Alliance: we have 13 councillors on East Devon District Council and are the largest party within its ruling Democratic Alliance Group which also includes the Liberal Democrats and Greens. In the 2019 elections, IEDA candidates topped the polls in the Seaton, Axminster, Coly Valley and Yarty wards of the Tiverton and Honiton constituency.