Political knockabout is one thing, it is even to be expected and can be a bit of fun in which all parties indulge at election time. The St Luke’s Independent leaflet has taken this too far, however, putting local politics into the gutter.
In the 10 years since I first became a Councillor I have fought many elections, in all those elections never has a candidate stooped so low as this Independent has.
In Southend the local media should hold the Council to account just as the press does at the national level. This includes challenging all those who stand for election to uphold the claims they make. Politics cannot work when candidates are free to make spurious and unfounded claims without check.
I thought it was worth going through some of the claims made just to illustrate the level of deceit to which unscrupulous candidates can descend. Below I have quoted statements from his leaflet with my comments in bold.
‘At the last election I was the victim of a number of dirty tricks perpetrated by the Conservatives’
This Independent Candidate publicly thanked the Conservative for a clean fight at the announcement of the St Luke’s results.
‘I want to concentrate on the policies and issues’
Yet he has not provided a single policy this year nor did he in 2008. Given that I address just about every point made in this leaflet you can judge the sincerity of his desire to concentrate on the ‘policies and issues’ once you’ve finished reading!
‘Why did the Conservatives dedicate nearly 50% of the content of their last “con sheet” to attacking me and other Independent Councillors?’
Well, either Mr Van Looy is totally incompetent when it comes to converting fractions of a page into percentages or he is prone to very excessive exaggeration. The Conservative leaflet had less than 1/8 of it relating to Independents and never even mentioned Mr Van Looy.
‘The Council is already making plans to accommodate an Independent led administration..’
I asked the Chief Executive if this was true. It is not. It is customary, polite and makes good sense to enquire of party leaders their intentions post election. This is quite specifically not planning to ‘accommodate an independent led administration’
‘I constantly emphasise the word LOCAL throughout my literature because none of your current Councillors live in the immediate area’
Is this the same Mr Van Looy who lived in Rebels Lane (near Barling) until 2008 and who even now does not live in the ward? It is what you do and how you work that counts not just where you live.
‘Despite what the CONservatives keep saying the Independents are not a political party’
Well they have a common website, a leader who takes a leader’s allowance and they claimed the right to a private Independent room in the Civic Suite. Mr Van Looy also claimed a few lines ago that they would hold the balance of power! This is pure semantics, be they group or party, if they aspire to leading the Council post the election they must have found common policies and ideology.
‘I pay for my own leaflets unlike the Conservatives who are funded by Lord Ashcroft…..’
Totally incorrect. All our leaflets are paid for by ourselves. Lord Ashcroft does not and never has financed local Councillors in Southend.
On this page Mr Van Looy appears to go even further over board with 4 bullet points accusing us of “untruths” on various topics. He is again wrong on every count.
1) He claims that independents never proposed pitches for travellers.
The independent representative on the regional planning panel supported the proposal for Gypsy and Traveller pitches. Anne Chalk who is standing as an independent also stated that facilities should be provided at Gunners Park (at the time she may have been have been Labour). Politics requires consensus, as a Tory I can tell you what the party will do if elected. If as an independent he cannot ensure what position fellow independents will take then he can make no guarantees or pledges.
2) He claims that Independents never wasted Taxpayers money on unfounded claims
In reality they made a raft of false allegations about me and others that were shown to be totally unfounded. In my opinion they were simply motivated out of spite and they cared little for the costs they incurred.
3) He claims independents never opposed schemes to improve parking.
The Independents have and still do oppose schemes. They opposed the East Beach parking Scheme and the Shoebury Station parking management scheme. If he supports these schemes he has convinced no-one within his ‘group’ and so cannot be assumed to have their support when similar issues come up again.
4) He claims independents never opposed plans for affordable housing
Independents have opposed planning schemes with substantial affordable housing- they opposed the Carnarvon Road Scheme and the Esplanade House Scheme, despite neither being in their wards.
Then he poses the question-
‘SHOULD YOU VOTE FOR A PARTY SEEKING TO MISLEAD YOU?’
Quite. It’s a good question and I hope after reading this people will answer in the negative.
Then follows a list of statements that apparently the “CONservatives” have done for Southend
‘Allowed housing waiting list to increase to nearly 6000….’
Sadly the numbers on the housing list have increased during the recession, but that is beyond our control. What we can and have done is to to reduce the numbers on the list as best as possible. We have promoted the town and created jobs with the result that Southend is weathering the recession far better than many towns. Ironically many of the people on the housing list want 2 bed homes but Independents constantly denigrate and oppose 2 bed accommodation.
‘Missed affordable housing targets every year….’
Incorrect we are meeting them. This is despite imposed targets being very difficult to meet in an already built up area. Remember again it was the Independents who led the opposition to the building of new 2 bed homes.
‘Not created the targeted 6000 jobs…’
The 6000 jobs target is for 2021 – more than 11 years away! As it happens with the new airport and other investments we are well on the way to exceed this goal.
‘Allowed Southend’s roads and pavements to fall apart with a £40m back log’
Nonsense, the figure of £40m is, to my understanding, complete fiction and this administration is putting substantial extra money into the budget to improve our roads and pavements. Heavy snow, ice, frost and rain over the past winter have taken a toll – but we have taken steps to find an extra £400k funding to address the problem. I suggest that Mr Van Looy takes a look outside the Borough where he will find that many roads are far worse than those in Southend.
‘only town the whole of S.E REGION to not subsidise bus routes….(sic)’
Well apart from the fact we are in the East Of England Region not the SE Region we put a not insubstantial £2.5m per year into subsiding bus travel! We put further funding into improving the bus facilities, telematics, etc , we have bid for kick-start funding and seek ‘106 funding’ whenever possible. I cannot see any basis for his claim.
‘left all our parks unlocked to be vandalised…..’
Hardly. Vandalism has not increased significantly and the cost to the tax payer has not increased as a result.
‘Deliberately allowed York Road Market to be run down and closed’
This is incorrect. The future of York Road Market has been under review for many years, even since before we were in control of the council. This issue has been fully debated and officer’s reports provided. I especially object to the idea that we did this ‘deliberately’, ascribing to us an intention which never existed and for which he has no evidence.
‘Set one of the highest council taxes whilst providing you with the worst possible services’
The Southend Council tax is the second lowest in Essex and of 40 similar authorities. The Council is a 3* authority (which is good) that has been nominated by an independent organisation as being one of the 5 most improved authorities in the country. Our customer services have recently been commended as Excellent, Planning is achieving in the top quartile of authorities, we have blue and green flags for our beaches and parks, the town centre has been awarded for its cleanliness etc. His assertion is simply dreamt up for political advantage.
This diatribe of lies then goes on to personally attack the Conservative Candidate, it makes untrue statements and is quite vicious in its allegations which can be proven to be wrong.
‘She was de-selected’
She was not, she left as her husband was terminally ill and she was very upset by the nasty (similar to being discussed here) rubbish spread about her by the independents and their callous behaviour at the last election. Now bereaved she wants a fresh start and is standing in St Luke’s where she was born, grew up and lived for many years.
‘Rumour has it she only wants to be mayor……………’
Well it’s not a rumour any of us has heard and if we are trading rumours we have a number we could spread about Mr Van Looy, probably with far more substance than this one.
‘She oversaw a large number of schools in special measures….’
She actually saw all our schools out of special measures and excellent GCSE results.
‘She and the Officers wanted to flog-off Cecil Jones lower schools to greedy developers.’
It was never intended nor even discussed that Cecil Jones lower school would be “flogged off” to greedy developers. It was suggested that the School may like to relocate the junior school to the larger site of Thorpe Bay School, they did not and so the matter went no further. Why would Sally Carr (our candidate) who is a teacher with numerous grandchildren of school age and no personal interest in the matter want to ‘flog off’ schools to developers? What exactly is he trying to suggest of Officers here also?
This kind of campaigning is in many ways responsible for the destruction of trust in our political system. I don’t know whether Mr Van Looy believes what he says and just doesn’t respect the electorate enough to check his facts or whether he is simply an ambivalent friend to honesty. People are obviously entirely entitled to their own opinions and preferences; this is the basis upon which democracy works. However those opinions and preferences cannot be fairly formed on the basis of unsupported assertion. Unchecked it results in disillusion and apathy.
To finish let me leave you with a final ironic quote from Mr Van Looy;
“[The Conservatives] will tell you lots of misleading things throughout this local election in order to try and brainwash you into not voting for me”
I can’t be the only person who feels he’s just projecting his own faults on to others.