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Politics is not a game: we need PR, but we also need a PA (Progressive Alliance) to get it

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My last two posts have provoked lively comment on social media. My Green former County Council colleague, Jacqi Hodgson, has welcomed my arguments, pointing out that in South Devon, a progressive alliance between Greens and Lib Dems helped her to keep Totnes and the Lib Dems to take South Brent from the Tories.

Jacqi points out that ‘politics is not a game’, it affects people’s life chances. Every Tory victory cements the corrupt, authoritarian, reactionary Johnson regime and makes things more difficult for people who are struggling.

Labour reaction

Predictably, Labour reaction has been more critical. Some have taken personally my comment that their strategy of putting up candidates everywhere – regardless of how finely balanced the situation is between the Tory and another progressive candidate – is ‘moronic’.

They have been upset that I described the 18-year-old Labour candidate for Axminster, Oliver Tucker, as ‘no-hope candidate’. However the fact that Ollie got 498 votes, compared to 1672 for the Tories and 1439 for EDA’s Paul Hayward, shows that he really was a no-hope candidate. Coming a poor third may be an improvement on coming a miserable fourth, but it is nowhere near to winning.

I know about this from personal experience. In 1987 I was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Beverley in East Yorkshire. I increased the Labour vote from 6,000 to almost 10,000, compared to 19,000 for the Lib Dems and 27,000 for the Tories. It felt like a success – but the Tories won, and went on winning, election after election. The reality was that only the Lib Dems were likely ever to beat them in that seat, and might have had a chance had Labour not stood. In retrospect, it doesn’t feel like my finest hour.

Moving towards PR

The Twitter discussions have confirmed that many in Labour are slowly following the rest of the non-Tory parties towards Proportional Representation for the House of Commons (and, I hope, English local elections). One of my Twitter friends says we must take ‘baby steps’ to nudge the party forward. Well, if that is all that is possible, yes. But some might say that the party’s current crisis needs rather more than ‘baby steps’.

‘Paper’ and not-so-paper candidates

One baby step that some Labour members are taking is to disavow the strategy of ‘paper candidates’ which helped to lose me Seaton and Colyton. That is progress. But they’re blaming it exclusively on the national party: ‘We’re just obeying orders’. They haven’t said that they’ll actually stop such candidates being nominated in future. They could do.

And as Ollie’s case shows, the problem isn’t just paper candidates. When no-hope candidates actually campaign, they’re even more likely to queer things for the other progressive candidates. One of the Labour candidates in Exmouth, who has been particularly abusive on Twitter, boasts of doubling the Labour vote – while he and his co-candidate came 5th and 6th in their division, behind not only the Tories but also the Independent and Lib Dem!

A multi-party environment means we need a Progressive Alliance

I’m not saying that Labour should never stand in places like Axminster or Exmouth. I am saying that Labour should recognise that they’re part of a multiparty centre-left, which includes the Greens, Lib Dems and progressive Independents like EDA.

I am saying that Labour should recognise that in the First Past The Post system – which Labour never reformed, despite its manifesto, between 1997 and 2010 – Labour should accept that the only way the centre-left can win widely, given the multiparty environment, is by a Progressive Alliance.

One candidate to challenge each Tory, in winnable seats

That means parties and groupings talking to each other. Ironically, Labour may have been only 5th & 6th in Exmouth because the Independents (3rd) and Lib Dems (4th) did recognise that neither could win if they put up two candidates each.

Let’s work towards a single progressive, anti-Tory candidate in each seat in future County elections (and two candidates in two-member divisions) – except in divisions which are, by general consent, either safe for the opposition OR hopelessly safe for the Tories.

If we’d had that last Thursday, we’d have had several fewer Tory councillors. I’m told that John Hart smirked when the news of my defeat came through in County Hall. I’m sure he can’t believe his luck that he got 84 per cent of the East Devon seats for 43 per cent of the East Devon votes.

A national Progressive Alliance is needed to get PR

And remember – we can only get PR if we get a progressive government. There is currently little chance of that happening through Labour alone. Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens must come together and develop a positive dynamic of cooperation, as a prelude to systematic arrangements for the next General Election. Tactical voting by itself is not enough – we have seen that time and again. The parties must themselves unite to prepare the defeat of Johnson.

How Labour and the Lib Dems helped the Conservatives prevail in Seaton & Colyton, and across East Devon

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After the sorrow comes the anger. In Thursday’s Seaton & Colyton election, I lost by 145 votes. Labour polled 306 and the Lib Dems 160. If either, and certainly if both, had stood down I could well have beaten the Conservative, Marcus Hartnell. I needed only one-third of their combined vote to prevail.

Both parties knew the seat was highly marginal. Both assured me privately they hoped I won. Both had ‘paper’ candidates. They did not campaign. Both knew, however, that with their candidates on the ballot, some voters would back them and inevitably take votes away from me.

However both parties thought that the opportunity to get a miserable share of the vote – by any measure, both 5.9 per cent and 3.1 per cent of the electorate are pathetic performances – was more important than getting a progressive, anti-Conservative councillor elected, someone they knew – based on my track record over the last 4 years – would vote with their parties most of the time.

Elsewhere in East Devon

Exactly the same thing happened in Axminster, where Independent EDA candidate Paul Hayward would also have won if half the Labour vote, or one-third the combined Labour/Lib Dem vote, had gone to him.

In Sidmouth, the Lib Dems were more enlightened, and did not stand against the Independent EDA candidate Louise MacAllister. Yet the Labour vote alone, 209, was still more than Stuart Hughes’ 170 majority. The opportunity to remove a Conservative cabinet member was lost.

It was not only Independent EDA candidates who lost the chance to beat the Conservatives. In the two-seat Exmouth division, where the two Conservatives got 7412 votes between them, the five opposition candidates shared 8164. It does not take much imagination to see that if there had been two, instead of five, there would have been a chance of edging out one or both of the Tories.

In Exmouth, the Independents (EDA did not stand), Lib Dems and Greens did at least recognise the situation by fielding only one candidate each, even if they failed to agree a common two candidates. Labour ploughed on regardless, and was rewarded with its two candidates coming in well behind the Independent and Lib Dem.

Labour’s moronic and arrogant approach

Labour’s approach is the worst of all these parties. Despite never having won either a district or county seat in East Devon, it continues with a ‘strategy’ – if you can call it that – of standing in every seat, regardless of how it benefits the Conservatives.

In this election, this resulted in miserable failure almost everywhere. The local party says that the national party forces them to stand – but if they didn’t submit their nomination papers, these sabotage, no-hope candidates would not exist. Still, local party officers carry on persuading 18-year-olds to put up in order to ‘get experience’, knowing it may hand seats to the Tories.

The exception to this story was Feniton & Honiton. There, because Independents and Greens did not stand, Labour got an unusually good 1491 votes, against the Tories’ 2094. If the Lib Dems hadn’t stood, they might have got closer. Surely there is a lesson here for the party – target one or two seats where you can reasonably hope to do well, and stop playing the Tories’ game everywhere else?

The Greens had a better strategy

In contrast, the Greens came near to such a strategy, deciding not to challenge myself, Paul Hayward and Louise MacAllister since we were poised to win in our finely balanced divisions. They clearly concentrated their resources on Broadclyst, and it seems only right that have been rewarded with their first seat in East Devon, where Henry Gent topped the poll and took a seat from the Tories. Congratulations!

The sorry tale of the Lib Dems – and an inside story of my Seaton & Colyton defeat

I have left the Lib Dems until last. This is in a way the saddest story. Unlike Labour, they acknowledge the need for cooperation. At EDDC, they are working well with the East Devon Alliance, Greens and progressive Independents to provide a historic first non-Conservative administration. In the case of Sidmouth, they did recognise that it was logical to help the Independent EDA challenger to Stuart Hughes, by not standing a candidate.

However in Seaton & Colyton, and Axminster, a different Lib Dem constituency party (Tiverton & Honiton) persevered with no-hope candidates. I can now reveal that this was despite the fact that the original Lib Dem candidate for Seaton contacted me to offer a deal where she would stand down in return for a joint public statement. This was not her private initiative – it followed discussions in the constituency party and she said that John Timperley, their 2019 General Election candidate, would contact me to discuss the detail.

She may have jumped the gun, because I never heard from Timperley, the party in its wisdom decided not to proceed, and a new candidate, Martyn Wilson, ended up on the ballot paper. I met him when he was leafleting. He too said he hoped I would win. I don’t know if his 160 votes, by themselves, would have been enough to tip the balance to me. But a Lib Dem withdrawal and a joint declaration might have had an effect larger than the numbers, benefiting both sides.

This cannot be allowed to happen again

Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and the East Devon Alliance have a common interest in ensuring that complacent Conservative domination of East Devon, and Devon as a whole, comes to an end. This election was a historic opportunity to make real steps towards this. If Tories had been deprived of Seaton, Axminster, Sidmouth and even one of the Exmouth seats, along with Otter Valley, won by an Independent, and one in Broadclyst, 6 out of 12 East Devon county seats would have been in opposition hands.

Instead, as it was in 2017, it is 10-2 for the Tories. This does not reflect the way people voted. 29564 votes were cast for the combined opposition, compared to only 22265 for the Conservatives. We could have had results which more or less reflected that situation. Instead we are all grossly underrepresented.

Making first-past-the-post work for the opposition

Many of us recognise that the electoral system is flawed. But it is what we have, and we won’t get change until we remove the Tory government using the existing system. In the United States, where they also have the 18th-century system, the progressive forces – from socialists to greens and centrist liberals – unite in a single party. They have got rid of Trump. They have a progressive reforming administration both at federal and many state and local levels.

We’re not looking at a single party. There are strengths in each of the party traditions as well as in the Independent approach. But we MUST, each of us, look at the contribution we can make to a united electoral alternative in Devon.

I am proud that in this election, the EDA only supported Independent candidates in the 3 divisions where we were close last time, and knew we could win. We could have stood paper candidates elsewhere to boost our brand, but resisted the temptation, knowing it would only harm the national parties where they had better chances of winning. Next time round, this must be our common approach. Or Tory rule could continue more or less indefinitely … .

Thank you for all your messages of support

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I have been deluged with lovely messages of commiseration on my defeat. They mean a lot to me and I shall obviously reply to every one personally.

On this blog, I don’t want to dwell on my personal disappointment, since the larger picture of the thwarting of opposition voices is far more depressing. However I do want to share a lovely message I have received from one of the campaigners for Teignmouth Hospital:

‘I am very sorry to see that you have sadly not been re-elected. It is heart-breaking when excellent councillors are not re-elected. As you pointed out East Devon is true blue, so with the rollout of the vaccine you were up against the tide. 

‘I know you probably do not want to hear this but your result is a great loss to the county. Hopefully you will not give up and continue to play a role in contributing to the good of all as you have done for the past 4 years.Thank you for all you have done and achieved for the residents of Devon.

‘If we are fortunate to receive a successful outcome for Teignmouth Hospital we would be honoured if you would be able to make the celebrations. Take good care of yourself.’

I have lost the election in Seaton and Colyton, by 145 votes

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Results:

Marcus Hartnell, Conservative, 2321  (1782 in 2017, when independent Conservative Jim Knight also got 414) 44.6%

Martin Shaw, Independent EDA, 2176 (1824 in 2017) 42.8%

Labour,  306   (224) 5.9%

Lib Dem, 160   (524) 3.1%

‘Democratic Network’, 95, 1.8%

‘Freedom alliance’ (anti-lockdown), 84, 1.6%

TORY MAJORITY: 145 (1.8%)

I congratulate Marcus on his election and thank everyone who voted for me, and especially those who helped the campaign. We did all we could but it was not quite enough.

This result and the similarly close results in Axminster and Sidmouth obviously need careful analysis, which I will return to in due course.

It has been an honour to represent the people of Seaton and Colyton over the last four years. I shall continue to work with everyone in the area to change things for the better.

No-hope Labour and Lib Dem candidates cost Independent Paul Hayward the Axminster seat on DCC

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Paul Hayward

RESULT:

Ian Hall (Conservative) 1672

Paul Hayward (Independent East Devon Alliance) 1439

Oliver Tucker (Labour) 498

Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrat) 209

Paul Hayward would have been a great County Councillor.

WHY, OH WHY, do these parties insist on standing everywhere, preventing fellow-progressives from ousting the Conservatives?

THE SEATON AND COLYTON RESULT WILL BE ANNOUNCED ANY TIME FROM AROUND 3 PM THIS AFTERNOON. (I won’t be able to live-blog this from the count, but I will tweet it @MartinShawEDA.

Follow the results on Devon Live.

Polling ‘manic’ in Colyford, and steady in Seaton and across the district

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This morning I toured the polling stations, from Seaton to Beer, Branscombe, Southleigh, Northleigh, Offwell, Wilmington, Colyton and Colyford.

Polling was generally pretty steady, but brisk in Colyton and described as ‘manic’ by polling clerks in Colyford, where parish council elections added to the excitement of the county contest.

Spare a thought for polling clerks in Wilmington – where the hall was without electricity and the door wide open on a cold early May morning!

Back to the Methodist Church polling station in Scalwell Lane, Seaton, now.

You have until 10 to cast your vote – results will be known late afternoon tomorrow.

(photo, outside Colyton Town Hall)

Absentee owners of Beer Road field propose 2-metre-high fence to block views to sea

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In an extraordinary move, the absentee owners of the field at the top of Beer Road have obtained a certificate of lawful development from EDDC to put a 2-metre fence all along the top end of the field, along Beer Road. This will obliterate the view shown in the photo above, preventing local residents and walkers on the Coastal Path from looking across the field to the sea. (Erecting a fence constitutes ‘permitted development’ and does not require planning permission; the certificate confirms this applies.)

The owners, two sisters who live in Gloucestershire, applied last year for planning permission to build a house on the site. EDDC indicated on the planning notice that this would be contrary to the Local Plan; although a decision has not been published, the owners clearly expect a refusal. Indeed they had threatened to erect a fence following objections by over 60 local residents as well as the SW Coastal Path Association, CPRE and Natural England.

Regardless of whether I am re-elected in tomorrow’s election, I shall be joining others from across the area and beyond who are telling me they want to do everything to stop this fence being erected.

Dan Ledger elected chair of Seaton Town Council and Town Mayor

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Many congratulations to Dan, at 30 Seaton’s youngest-ever mayor.

Ken Beer, who has been mayor for the last two years, is the new vice-chair. Ken has achieved a lot during a very difficult period.

I look forward to working with them both in their new roles.

Local Conservatives have a nerve boasting about putting ‘meat on the bones’, when their government has both stripped funding and hoisted council tax

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MAJOR SLEAZE

The Conservative candidates for Seaton and Axminster, in a paid advert in the Midweek Herald, say they are working to put ‘meat on the bones’ on the services we need in the area. This is incredible hypocrisy after their government has spent over a decade stripping the same services back to the bone.

Devon County Council’s funding has been reduced by far more than £100 million per year. Highways and Libraries are on standstill funding, i.e. reducing in real terms.

Austerity is still with us

Lest you be fooled by loose talk about austerity being over, let me remind you that golden boy Rishi Sunak has made it very clear that most areas of public services will be on starvation rations for the foreseeable future. Even local NHS managers are expecting funding constraints to return with a vengeance once the Covid emergency is over. These are the Government’s political choices, while they spend lavishly in other areas.

Local cuts

When you vote, just remember that in the last few years, Seaton, Axminster and Honiton hospitals have lost their beds because of Conservative spending cuts. NHS Property Services, which owns the hospitals, spurred on my the government’s incentives for property sales, put the Seaton and Axminster hospital sites forward for housing development.

Colyton Fire Station was almost closed for the same reason. Colyton Health Centre faced possible closure because NHS PS hiked their service charges 5 times. The town’s public services could have been decimated for the sake of land sales.

Only vigorous protests by the local communities, with my support as County Councillor, have held the line in these three cases. On the other hand, Conservative councillors from East Devon voted through the cuts in hospital beds.

‘Cutting Council Tax’ – a pure lie

Local Conservatives’ nerve is almost on a par with that of the well-known liar Boris Johnson, who last week claimed that the Conservatives were ‘cutting council tax’. That will be the same Conservatives who have RAISED Devon’s council tax by 30 per cent in the last 6 years, at the same time as CUTTING services.

You can’t trust the Conservatives to fight for local communities.

Less than 72 hours to polling day – remember that the Seaton polling stations have changed

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As you get ready to vote on Thursday, please remember that in SEATON, the Town Hall is no longer being used as a polling station. You should look at your polling card to see which station you should go to.

SEATON METHODIST CHURCH is the main polling station

If you’ve mislaid your card, you can still vote (you don’t need to produce a card, just tell the clerk your name and address).

You can work out your polling station using this guide:

Seaton Bowling Club, Seahill

For everyone in the western part of Seaton who is in the Beer and Branscombe district ward.

Marshlands Centre, Harbour Road

For everyone else, in the rest of Seaton, registered to an address in streets whose name begins with A-F (up to & including Fore Street)

Methodist Church, Scalwell Lane

For everyone else, registered to an address in streets whose name begins with F-Z (starting with Fortfield)

IF YOU GO THE WRONG STATION, they will tell you where your correct station is and you’ll have to go on to it.

POLLING STATIONS are unchanged in BEER, BRANSCOMBE, COLYTON, COLYFORD, FARWAY, NORTHLEIGH, OFFWELL, SOUTHLEIGH, and WILMINGTON – go to your usual town or village hall.