Cllr Margaret Moher

It is with much sadness to announce that my ward colleague for Old Dean and good friend, Cllr Margaret Moher, has today passed away at Frimley Park Hospital.

Margaret was a fantastic community champion for Old Dean and served as their councillor for over 13 years. She spent most of her life living within the community that she loved. Her passion and knowledge of the Old Dean residents was hugely respected across the political spectrum and it is touching that many have already passed on their own personal condolences and personal memories.

She lives behind many family members, friends and colleagues who are greatly shocked and saddened at this time.

I am personally honoured to have spent 7 fantastic years as her ward colleague and will greatly miss her.

The Politics of Emotion

In the usual post-election fallout, there have been a huge amount of blogs across the whole political spectrum all discussing how to improve their perceived own party position. There is a common theme amongst most of them which basically boils down to the author suggesting one of two solutions namely:-

A) Change the policy (i.e. to an area that the author supports)
B) Change aspects of or even replace the author’s leader.

Now there are times where this is needed in any party but actually there is a third area often forgotten but well known in the training and psychology field and that is the power of emotion in affecting viewpoints and decision making.

So going back 15 years to my previous time as a trainer, here in one paragraph is a very simple summary:-

When people make decisions, they do so in two ways – emotional thinking and critical thinking. All of us do both to some degree but mainly critical thinkers are those who weigh up the pros and cons of a decision and come to a view based on evidence. Emotional thinkers are very different in that they tend to be instinctive and make decisions on how they feel rather than any facts.

Research is sketchy in this area but as a rough estimate, it is believed that around 20-25% of the population are essentially critical thinkers and the rest to varying degrees are mainly emotional thinkers.

But this is a political blog rather than psychology so how is this relevant to the UK political system? Well let’s take one particular topic – immigration and link to the current rise of UKIP and a general mistrust of politicians.

If we look at national and even local politics and politicians in all parties, they almost entirely come from and therefore talk to people in attempting to address opinion in the style of critical thinkers. You can see this when discussing a topic, they naturally reach for the answer being a practical policy and expect the voters to respond positively to this. Therefore, taking the issue of immigration, if you look at all of the party positions, they actually have a number of pretty similar views namely that they wish to support the concept of immigration, reduce overall net migration, encourage people to become part of their community and support UK residents in getting jobs. The vast majority of the public will not be able to tell you much about any party policy and especially any of the details and yet too much party political energy goes on this.

The problem with this approach is that no matter what the policy may be or indeed the pros and cons of a policy, it will not relate in any way to those in the population who are emotional thinkers. These are the majority of the population who are actually not particularly interested in the facts or even care about aspects such as the rational pros and cons of the European Union. Instead many of these people will take a view on say, immigration, based purely on an emotive or perceptive reason even if it is not based on any fact or reality.

So for example, when people say “There are too many foreigners in the country” – this is misunderstood by politicians who think that the answer is to set an figure or try and use facts or logic as a response. This won’t work for emotive thinkers and is why many in the “political class” are viewed as “out of touch”. What this person is actually seeking is not a number but an emotional response i.e. one which starts by recognising and addresses their emotional well-being rather than coming up with an actual solution.

At this point, “critical thinkers” then start to object because this type of response runs a different sort of risk. So for example, if a voter says, “There are too many foreigners in the country” – an answer of “You’re right and I agree with you” might quickly satisfy the voter on a doorstep but quickly fails under public scrutiny and inconsistent messaging. In the medium term, it doesn’t actually address any problem in a detailed policy setting and nor does it balance wider national and international interests that all governments must take into account.

Therefore, any serious political party needs a balance of both. UKIP and Nigel Farage in particular (along with Alex Salmond in Scotland and Boris Johnson to a lesser degree) are clearly aiming at the emotive thinkers by speaking in emotive ways e.g. “485 million people have the right to live and work in the UK” ignoring the fact that if we left the EU, 60 million UK people have the right to live and work in the much smaller area of Surrey Heath.

The challenge for other parties (and I am only really interested in the Labour side) is therefore nothing to do with policy or leadership but to reach out towards the emotional thinkers. In particular, it means making an emotional argument on some of the difficult subjects that politicians have been prone to avoid as they tend to be emotive.

So as someone who is pro-immigration, political messaging on the doorstep might mean…

- Point out that lots of famous people in the UK were actually born outside the UK (for example Boris Johnson, Cliff Richard, numerous England cricket players and even St.George himself – the patron saint of England – the list is endless) Some trade unions are already working on this strategy.

- Naming local people who are immigrants and invite people to ask what is wrong with them (doctors, businesses, care workers, restaurants) – I tried this recently when canvassing and found one resident initially complaining about immigration actually had very friendly neighbours from Pakistan and they got on really well but hadn’t made the link…

- If you know your football, ask whether they have a favourite football team and if they say Chelsea, ask what they think of Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez for Liverpool, Vincent Company for Man City etc. point out what a good player they are…sporting role models are particularly powerful argument.

- Ask why should British workers be banned from taking the jobs of foreigners abroad as would happen if free movement across the EU was stopped. Point out the huge number of retired Brits living abroad.

- Agree and empathise with whatever you can (for example issues around low pay, housing, crime in area) This can be done without you agreeing that immigrants are the cause of this.

There are many other emotional arguments that could be used and obviously they won’t work for every “emotional thinker”. However, the key is simple political messaging which allows space to highlight the positives and subtly change the dynamics. Will this happen at a national level – we’ll wait and see!

Surrey Heath Euro results in full

Results are in from Surrey Heath who have voted as follows:-

An Independence 4 Europe 385 (1.8%)
BNP 118 (0.5%)
Christian Peoples Alliance 141 (0.6%)
Conservative 8422 (39.3%)
English Democrats 152 (0.7%)
Green 1343 (6.3%)
Harmony 20 (0.1%)
Labour 2060 (9.6%)
Liberal Democrats 1539 (7.2%)
Liberty 19 (0.1%)
Peace 76 (0.4%)
Roman 31 (0.2%)
Socialist 20 (0.1%)
UKIP 7007 (32.7%)
Your Voice 24 (0.1%)

Spoilt 60
Total votes cast 21417 (33.21%)

The prediction made on Thursday was therefore fairly accurate with all party shares within 3%.

As expected, the postal vote operation meant the Conservatives topped the poll although it would have been very close amongst those who voted in person with UKIP.

Surrey Heath was a relatively low turnout at 33% but Old Dean was especially low with only about 25% voting. I think this shows that Europe is not a key issue in some of our poorer communities and is therefore likely to artificially depress the comparative Labour vote in areas across the country where they were no local elections.

The South East elect 10 candidates and therefore the Surrey Heath result (using the same system) would have meant:-

Con 5
UKIP 4
Lab 1

This compares to the actual SE result of 4 UKIP, 3 Con, 1 Lab, 1 Green, 1 Lib Dem.

Prediction of Surrey Heath Euro results

The polls have now closed but we will have to wait 3 days to know how the Surrey Heath jury have voted in the Eurovision contest. Having completely failed to predict the Surrey PCC result, this is a very rough guide to how the Surrey Heath parties are likely to fare this year.

The starting point is last year’s County elections which resulted in the following:-

Con 48.3% – 8340 votes
UKIP 26.9% – 4646
Lab 15.9% – 2739
Lib Dem 8.9% – 1531 (although only stood in 4 of 6 wards)

Guessing is complicated by a couple of factors namely that these are European rather than local elections and also by the fact that there are 15 parties taking part including the Greens and a number of fringe parties that were not available at the County elections.

Although Surrey Heath will not officially declare (as we are part of the wider South East result), my guess is as follows:-

Con – around 37%
UKIP – around 33%
Lab – around 12%
Lib Dem – around 7%
Green – around 7%
Independence 4 Europe – 3%
Others – 1% (combined)
Overall turnout – around 30%

I still expect the Cons to get the most votes in Surrey Heath as they have a far bigger and better electoral machine than UKIP who have relied on national coverage. That said, UKIP should increase their local % of the vote at the expense of other parties.

Will try to tweet the Surrey Heath numbers on Sunday night to see how close this is….

UPDATE – 24/04 – The Surrey Heath turnout was 33.21% . Converting the above percentages into number of votes gives predicted numbers of ..

Con 7925
UKIP 7275
Lab 2550
Lib Dem 1500
Green 1500
Others 850

A30 parking scheme and angry residents..

Haven’t written a blog for a while but tonight we had the next instalment of the sorry saga regarding the A30 parking permit scheme in Camberley. For those new to all this, hundreds of people in Surrey Heath were caught out by a parking change in a short stretch of Camberley Town Centre road along the A30 and ended up having to pay expensive fines. Whilst due process in terms of the letter of the law was followed by both Councils, we had a typical local government problem of procedure and buck-passing trumping common sense and empathy. End result is of course lots of angry residents losing valuable money and no-one being seen to take any kind of responsibility.

Tonight saw a petition and speech from local vicar, Bruce Nicole of over 800 local residents requesting a refund for fines prior to the larger signs being established. In addition, many other residents were very angry about other associated and relevant issues.

Much as I would have liked to publicly comment on the subject during the meeting, I am there as a rep from Surrey Heath Borough Council albeit as an opposition member. As such, I can’t really speak for SHBC on this issue but it was a pity that the Cllr responsible (who was present in the audience) chose not to identify themselves or make any kind of contribution on any of the important points raised.

Starting with the process, anyone unhappy with a penalty charge on procedural grounds can and should appeal and the details of this are on the Council website.

http://www.surreyheath.gov.uk/transport/carparking/PCN.htm

These details are also on the letter of the penalty charge and involve writing to the Council summarising the grounds and including any evidence such as photos. This will be considered by a different Parking officer based on the evidence provided and I think is generally by one of the Parking team leaders/managers although can’t confirm this for sure. It is not a Panel either of officers or Cllrs as was suggested tonight.

If your appeal is rejected by the Council, you can then appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and their website is here. http://www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk/site/index.php
They are a body completely independent of the Council and will look at your evidence and that of the Council before coming to a final decision which is binding on all parties. It is very rare for any costs to be awarded against people who appeal.

However, it would appear (at least from a letter that one resident kindly showed me today) that the Borough Council do not actually tell people about the Traffic Penalty Tribunal when they give their decision about someone’s appeal. It does appear on the Council’s website albeit not in a prominent place. This means that many residents are not even aware that there is a completely independent body that can overturn a Council’s decision about the validity of an individual charge or that they can then appeal to them.

I wasn’t aware of this omission and it seems very wrong to me so I will be asking the Portfolio Holder to change this. In my view, every appeal decision letter should include details of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal so residents can take it further if they so wish.

It is important to note that the Tribunal cannot overturn Council policy but is merely there to interpret the validity or otherwise of a penalty charge notice.

On a different note, it also appears that the customer service of the Borough Council has been found lacking on this subject. A number of residents stated that they had contacted the Council/senior officers and found no response or very delayed. As was mentioned by a colleague, part of this can be explained by current personal circumstances of one senior officer to whom we offer our full support. However, it would appear that despite best endeavours, some resident messages may have slipped through the Council net and therefore not received any or a suitable response. This is clearly very frustrating for those residents who still expect the Council as an entity to respond even if individuals for very good reason are not able to do so at this time. Hopefully, other senior officers and members will relook at whether there are any current gaps and cover as best they can even if just with a holding response. Most residents will give the Council a lot of credit if they are just kept informed without needing every detail.

Telling residents caught out that it is all their fault is just not a suitable response either and greatly irritates people. No-one is forced to park in Camberley and all that happens is they will go elsewhere and tell others about how bad Camberley and how bad the Council is. Like any business, it takes a long time to gain a customer and a short time to lose them. The argument put by many is that it is the Council’s responsibility to put up signs big enough for people to see and there is no law to stop them being bigger than “national guidelines”.

Turning to a different issue and the conduct of individual parking officers was also questioned again with one resident claiming that two officers watched them park but said nothing to them and then gave them a ticket. It is important to note that the Borough Council have repeatedly stated that staff do not get any bonus or financial incentive to issue tickets.

In addition to the appeal process for fines mentioned above, if ever people wish to raise concern about any individual Surrey Heath officer, you can also use the Council’s Complaints system and details of this can be found here:-

http://www.surreyheath.gov.uk/services/list.htm?mode=8&pk_services=250

Again, if you exhaust the Council’s internal system which involves consideration by senior managers, there is the Local Government Ombudsman who is independent. You can also contact your local Cllr if you think there is a policy or political issue that needs addressing. However, Cllrs won’t get involved in staffing matters (such as complaints against individual officers) which are dealt with by senior managers. Cllrs should (it does vary though) outline the general process to you and can make enquiries about the progression.

As I have previously said, this situation is a sorry state of affairs to which neither Council or any Cllrs emerge with any credit. Personally, I don’t think that anyone is “to blame” but the system failed and no-one should allow this to happen again. If we can all raise awareness and avoid a repeat then at least one positive will come from it.

Parking foul-ups don’t help Camberley…

The last Full Council meeting before Christmas tends to be a low-key affair going through a few formalities before Cllrs disappear off for mulled wine and mince pies.

However, tonight was different as parking was on the agenda. I had submitted a written question as follows:-

“As a Council, it is important that we keep high levels of public confidence particularly regarding our parking offer in Camberley Town Centre. Therefore,
(a) How many penalty charge notices have been issued for failing to display a valid permit on the A30 slip road since this scheme came in earlier this year?
(b) How many vehicles and therefore tickets were affected on the evening of Saturday 16th November (Christmas Lights Switch-on) when people were wrongly charged for parking in Knoll Road at a time when it was advertised as being free after 4pm?”

The answer I was expecting was two numbers. However, instead we got a very lengthy speech by the Business Portfolio Holder which lasted several minutes – the summary of which was that (a) was entirely the fault of Surrey County Council. It was only at the very end that we actually got the response which was an astonishing 598 penalty charge notices in a 6 week period. This means that 100 people a week are getting charged £35 (doubled if not paid in 14 days) and over £20k has now been racked up to the public purse.

Now granted, a small percentage may be deliberate people who wouldn’t care perhaps similar to the 13 people who parked for longer than 30 minutes in the neighbouring bay. However, this still leaves several hundred people who have been charged £35 for not realising that the area had now changed and their free 30 mins no longer applies.

The public really don’t actually care whether this is the fault of the Borough Council or the County Council. Nor do they care much for silly finger pointing when both authorities are led by the same political party and should therefore (in theory) get on but clearly don’t.

So what really happened here and more importantly, what are the lessons to be learnt?

Early in 2013, it seems that there was a request from some businesses and residents adjoining the A30 who found it difficult to park. They therefore contacted SCC (I think) to request consideration of a permit scheme along part of the road.

This was then included along with around 75 other requests at a meeting of the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee in March 2013. I attended this meeting as one of the members and the meeting report is here http://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g2632/Public%20reports%20pack%20Thursday%2014-Mar-2013%2018.30%20Surrey%20Heath%20Local%20Committee.pdf?T=10

Within a 25 page report on the subject of “Annual Review of On-street parking” – the only mention is this,

“London Road Service Road (1321)
Convert part of the limited waiting bay outside numbers 125 to 139 to ‘permit holders only’. This will make it easier for residents who live in nearby flats located above shops etc to find somewhere to park.”
Now in a meeting that mainly discussed Red Road and youth commissioning, this item did generate debate but mainly on one item namely areas of Heatherside following a delegation from residents. There was no actual discussion (at least from memory) of this particular scheme or any other items. Some of us (wrongly) believed that this particular scheme related to the service road and car park behind the shops whereas others perhaps were in favour, had no opinion or didn’t realise. This matter was therefore agreed without formal voting.

What happens to have happened next is that public notices appeared as usual in the newspapers giving a notice period for objection which no one did.

SCC Officers then preceded to put up these signs (standard size) and the scheme came in. No further information was then given and although some people were then caught, SHBC officers had a standard 2 week grace period before tickets were issued. After then, it was enforced – many hundreds have been caught including cllrs who didn’t realise and then insisted on bigger signs.

This is frankly a sorry affair in which both Councils have followed their own procedures correctly but the overall system was flawed. The lessons are therefore:-

  • - Need for clearer and more concise committee reports for members
  • County members to personally sign off schemes in their area thus showing their clear support for proposal.
  • Need for greater use of publicity such as social media networks rather than expecting public to read notices buried away in newspapers. This is the responsibility of both councils.
  • Need for better liaison between senior members at County/Borough level including regular meetings about key sensitive areas.
  • More flexibility around signage size particularly in sites known to attract large numbers of visitors (such as town centres)

Turning to my second question, the answer I was given tonight was that the Council were only aware of 2 people who had been affected namely myself and another Cllr.

Whilst it may be true that only 2 people had bothered to contact the Council to point this out, I would estimate that the numbers affected would be at least 100 vehicles and potentially 300 people (assuming 2 adults and 1 child). These people wouldn’t have bothered to chase up their £1.50 or £2 but instead will have complained about it to their friends and relatives possibly spoiling their otherwise good experience. I know from Twitter that night that it was certainly more than me and one other Cllr affected.

On the night in question, the Council repeatedly boasted beforehand that there would be free parking after 4pm in their car parks. This was to attract people to attend the Christmas lights switch on in Mall at 4.30pm and a concert in Park Street at 5pm along with a very good Christmas market in the High St during the day. This is an important principle that the Council should not benefit from residents getting caught out in this way.

Sadly, they messed up at Knoll Road – people arriving after 4pm collected their ticket as normal, went to Christmas activities and then found that their “free time” after 4pm was not free after all. Now, it is true that the Council fixed this at some point in the evening and raised the barriers but at the earliest, this wasn’t before 5pm (I left just before 5pm and it certainly wasn’t fixed then).

So, according to the Council response given tonight, on a very busy Saturday afternoon with lots of attractions in town all day, a grand total of 2 vehicles entered or left Knoll Road car park in the hour between 4pm and 5pm (or possibly later). Through a remarkable act of coincidence, both of these vehicles just happened to be driven by one of the 40 Cllrs at Surrey Heath.

Now there may be some people who believe this incredible explanation but I don’t. Instead, I remember cars coming in at the same time as me also wanting to see the lights and concert. Why not acknowledge this and accept this as an error rather than hiding behind those who have bothered to contact the Council about it?

Apparently the current ticket machines in Knoll Road are unable to tell but the good news is that we found out tonight that we have CCTV covering the entrances. Think I might request a copy of the tape for that night to see what actually happened and to get the numbers affected…

It’s quite clear from lots of follow up questions tonight and also other Twitter users and blogs that people are very unhappy with parking in Camberley TC. A new parking strategy agreed last night will eventually help but based on tonight, it’s not hard to see why people are so cross.

Support the living then remember the dead

Like many over this weekend, I have spent time remembering those who have given their lives for others and have taken part in 4 varied acts of remembrance. On Saturday, it was with 45 000 football fans at Anfield where an immaculate quiet gently intervened in the usually noisy atmosphere. On Sunday morning, it was with family watching the events at the Cenotaph and then in the afternoon joining local veterans, residents and Cllrs for the annual service and remembrance in Camberley with hundreds of local people. Then this morning at 11am, a time of silence with colleagues at my workplace who gathered and stood quietly around a flagpole.

And yet the most poignant story which really made me think concerned the story of Mr Harold Jellicoe Percival. He was a war veteran aged 99 who died recently in a Lancashire nursing home.

Mr Percival was unmarried and never had children. He spent his last years in a nursing home and according to reports without any friends or family visiting. The funeral director, apparently concerned that his funeral would be poorly attended decided to put an advert in a local paper. Word spread by social media and his funeral today at 11am saw hundreds of people coming along. You can read about this here.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10441173/Hundreds-of-strangers-attend-veterans-funeral.html

So why is this such a sad story? After all, many strangers came along to pay their respects and hopefully this gave comfort to his remaining family. In fact, so many of them came wanting to give him a good send-off that they stood outside in the rain being unable to get in to the ceremony.

And yet the real sadness here is that Mr Percival like many other war veterans seemingly ended his life alone and with few people caring about his existence. As one colleague caustically said today, “where was those people when he was alive and when he needed them the most?”

There are many thousands of people in this country just like Mr Percival. People who fought for their country perhaps sacrificing a future family or time with friends in doing so. It is no surprise that many of these suffer afterwards with broken relationships or try to block out memories with drink or have poor mental health. Sadly, if you talk to those sleeping rough on the streets, you will realise that many of them will come from an ex-services background but have found it impossible to adapt to civvy street.

Many will go on to live a long life but like many older people will spend their final years experiencing intense isolation. No-one comes to visit, no-one phones up and the only letters they receive are bills. There will be hundreds of people in Surrey Heath living or existing in this way but it would seem to them that no-one notices and no-one cares. Their only human contact for the week may be the person serving them at the post office or supermarket checkout.

When they are medically unable to look after themselves, many will then be put in a home. Their final days spent with even their most personal needs being done by complete strangers who are being paid to do so.

Is it really a good send-off when the person is not alive to appreciate it? Or instead, should we as a society treat older people and especially our veterans with time and dignity so that their last years can be fondly remembered and even celebrated by them?

It is important that we never forget those who died whilst serving the country and to stand in silent recognition for a few minutes a year. But the real remembrance is surely in the story of Mr Percival; to remember the living, those who survived or got left behind when life moved on. This is a huge challenge to all of us but we should never forget.