A letter to my MP on cuts to the ESA

This week the government forced through a cut to the Employment and Support Allowance – what used to be incapacity benefit – and overuled objection in the Lords by claiming ‘financial privilege.’ Members of the upper house had expressed concern and were seeking an impact assessment but this is now forced through as yet another step on the Conservative government’s path to dismantling the welfare state and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Read More »

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Benefits System

Dear Mel Stride,

Just a quick note to say that as a constituent and citizen I am shocked
and disappointed that the way the chancellor has proposed to implement
cuts to the benefits system.

I pay tax and have paid tax for many years and am more than happy to do
so. I believe that a society has a duty to support those in need but I
strongly resent changes to taxation which benefit those who are wealthy
enough to not need additional help whilst those at the lower end of the
pay spectrum bear the brunt. The assertion that “we are all in it
together” and that we must all contribute in order to reduce the
deficit rings a little hollow while cuts to the incomes of working
families seem to offset changes to inheritance tax and the higher rate
of tax.

Surely the way to implement this would be in a way which supports
rather than penalises families and workers – to drive changes to
employment and to raise the minimum wage to the point where as much
employment as possible pays a true living wage? As wages rise then the
demand on the benefits system would surely decrease as families would
need and claim less but instead we seem to be making cuts based on an
ideology and rhetoric rather than supporting those worst affected.

The token announcement of a living wage to be in place by 2020 but cuts
and changes being in place long before seems like a token offering to
soften the blow but one which few are falling for.

I know many people see those depending on the benefits as “scroungers”
and that it is a lifestyle choice, a life of “something for nothing”
while the rest of us work to support them but I believe that view is as
outdated as it is incorrect. The austerity of the last 5 years and
further measures coming our way despite warning by organisations such
as the IMF, has left many struggling to get by. I find myself donating
more to charity than ever before but to charities nearer to home, to
organisations plugging the gaps such as foodbanks rather than animal
welfare. The fact that we as a wealthy nation have so many living in
poverty, including children (and changing the way we classify poverty
does not change a thing!)  is surely a disgrace. We should be ashamed
and like with many things rise above party politics and aim for a
stronger, more inclusive society.

I know that you cannot influence this directly of course nor are there
are votes or debates imminent where this might be discussed but as per
previous correspondence if I do not write then my voice won’t be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Hunting Act

There is a lot in the news right now about changes to the 2004 Hunting Act, specifically to allow hunters to use a full pack of hounds to flush out foxes for the purposes of pest control. Currently only a pair of dogs may be used.

Dr Brian May and many others are campaigning tirelessly on this as many, myself included see this as a way of returning to full hunting with dogs. A cynic might also think that this is a change being pushed through by a Conservative party looking to appease landowners, donors, friends and countryside voters still aggrieved since the act became law 10 years ago.

If the government wants to repeal the act then propose to do it in full rather than weaken and dilute it and then debate it and vote freely!

I’ve written to my MP to let him know my feelings, as below. Take the time to do the same if you feel strongly about it or they will never know what you think.

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope this finds you well. I am writing to you regarding the forthcoming vote on changes to the hunting act. As I understand it the amendment is to bring us in line with Scotland where a full pack of hounds can be used to flush out a fox before shooting it rather than a pair currently.

I agree with many campaigners that this will lead to a return to full hunting rather than aiding pest control; that hunts will quickly be able to return to the old ways of full, traditional meets chasing down a fox rather than a scent trail.

The argument seems to be framed as “the countryside” vs. “lefty” animal rights campaigners, that those in towns don’t understand the need to manage the countryside and its wildlife and that can often lead to it being a left vs. right argument or Labour vs. Conservative which i think is wrong and also a shame that either side might look to simplify it so.

As I remember, the vote on the hunting act in 2004 was complicated and the culmination of many years of proposals but now it is law I believe it would be a backward step to ease the law and potentially allow full hunting to resume.

I understand the need to control certain species but believe that this can be done humanely, with no element of “sport” and without a sense of enjoyment in the hunting to exhaustion and killing of a terrified animal with a pack of dogs. I also do not believe that any of the previous arguments about tradition, a country way of life or the economic impact of not hunting can apply any longer given that it is now 10 years since the act became law.

I obviously don’t know your thoughts on this, you were not an MP at the time of the original vote, but I do know that you like to know and will bear in mind your constituents feelings when voting or discussing with the Whips office.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A letter to my MEPs as we approach a referendum on UK membership of the EU

The EU and our membership of it was positioned high on a list of key issues during the general election, often as something to blame when talking about immigration but also as a drain on our budget. Will we ever get a balanced view presented or will we sleepwalk into a referendum steered by negative press and biased views? I decided to write to my MEPs (there are six of them but until I checked on writetothem.com I couldn’t name one) to find out what they do and how I might find out about that. Like me letters to me MP Mel Stride I hope this will be interesting and I’ll hopefully keep in touch.

———–

Dear William (The Earl of) Dartmouth, Molly Scott Cato, Julie Girling, Julia Reid, Clare Moody and Ashley Fox,
I find myself increasingly dismayed with the position the UK is taking on Europe and membership of the EU.

UKIP have obviously taken an anti EU stance for some time and while I respect the right of individuals and parties to oppose EU membership however flimsy the reasoning, I object to politicians taking a salary and claiming expenses but not representing our interests in Europe. It seems dishonest and also fraudulent to do so. The Conservative party sway between being wholeheartedly in favour of membership and then openly critical of it, perhaps to tempt back voters they believe lost to UKIP on the issue.

I believe it is the responsibility of politicians to present a balanced argument yet on the Europe question yet I don’t see much balance on this issue and this concerns me – if only a negative picture is shown, how will the electorate be able to make an informed decision on membership? Perhaps the mainstream parties are gearing up to this but in the meantime where is the positive message or indeed any message from my MEPs? How do I know what you each do, how often you do it and what you achieve in office?

How often are you present in the parliament? How do you represent your SW constituents and how do you balance your party interests with those of your constituents? Where do you report back to us? I hope you can find the time to get back to me on this.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

“The Myth of the Wasted Vote” or “Why I’m voting for Arthur Price in Central Devon”

Some great points made here and something I wish I’d found and read before my recent piece on standing as an independent in Devon.

Don’t write this off as something only relevant before the election, it is well worth a minute or two of your time

Do Right, Fear No One

Arthur Price lives in Central Devon. He has done for a very long time. It is a rock solid Tory seat, and as Arthur readily accepts, is going to stay that way come May the 7th.

BUT,

That hasn’t stopped him from standing as an independent candidate. This blog, something of a departure from my usual fare, explains why I am going to vote for Arthur, and why we should all take a step back from industrial politics and think.

Here is a link to Arthur’s website Its worth looking at for the video of his first hustings performance (the Tory banned them after this one) and his campaign song. (Lyrics by D. Cameron Esq)

And here’s a link to his Facebook Page. Please do “Like” it.

And on Twitter @arfprice

He’s not the Messiah, he’s not even very naughty. He’s quite witty, though certainly not a comedy candidate.

So…

View original post 801 more words

Campaigning as an independent parliamentary candidate in Devon

What have I learnt from the recent General Election? Well, aside from the obvious – (1) the manipulation of the media by the Conservative party is absolute, (2) politicians can and will lie in order to get elected without anybody questioning what they say & (3) Moretonhampstead is a socialist enclave in the heart of True Blue Devon, I have learnt this:

It is and probably always will be really difficult for an independent candidate to challenge an established, mainstream party MP seeking re-election.

I watched the campaign of Claire Wright with interest as we had a previous employer in common, I work in the constituency where Claire was standing – Devon East – and also I liked what she had to say. Claire’s campaign went brilliantly and there was a real groundswell of support, great coverage in the press, strong performances in hustings and bookmakers flagged Claire as a potential upset in what is traditionally seen as a safe Tory seat.

The final count gave Claire a 24% share with 13,140 votes which was a huge achievement for an independent, first time candidate but the winner, Hugo Swire, the constituency’s Conservative MP since 2001 polled 25,401 votes – a 46% share. Given that Swire had been largely absent from his constituency during the campaign and a couple of months early had made the news with some ill-considered jokes about benefits claimants at a charity auction, this showed how strong the Tory hold is on the constituency and also the resources the party can call on when required. Claire’s campaign had some financial backing and a team of volunteers behind it but the Conservative party has such financial clout, focused and experienced local activists and also access to land for billboards which the mainstream parties struggle to challenge, Couple that with the backing in the mainstream media – party political broadcasts, ministers and others appearances on prime time TV and of course some biased reporting in the country’s most popular papers – and also that many voters can not be swayed from how they have always voted then how could an independent make the breakthrough?

An independent cannot offer sweeteners to elderly voters in the form of pension promises or tax breaks. An independent cannot get exposure on BBC Question Time. An independent cannot get their policies and message, however good they might be, on the front page of the Daily Mail, Times or Sun. Maybe though Claire’s campaign can be a first step; exposure and experience before a 2nd tilt at it in 5 years time.

In Central Devon (the constituency in which I live) my friend & local musician Andy Williamson was standing for election as a candidate for the Green Party. Andy fought a great campaign, understated to some extent but one which obviously registered with the electorate as he polled a respectable 8.9% share in what is seen as a super-safe Tory seat. What was really interesting in Central Devon was the presence of an independent candidate coming from a totally different angle from Claire in Devon East.

Arthur Price announced himself with a short speech at hustings in the Moorland town of Bovey Tracey as someone dismayed with politics and politicians in this country; someone looking for a “conviction politician” who he could trust. Unable to find one, he stood himself. Arthur didn’t expect to win, he didn’t even expect to have his deposit returned. He didn’t canvas or doorstep or have any financial backing. What Arthur did have was an energy which was lacking and a real belief. For someone not looking for votes, simply to have a chance to confront and challenge the incumbent MP and have his opinion heard, Arthur made a splash. His votes numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands but given that his exposure was limited to hustings in key towns, limited local press and social networking through Twitter and Youtube his standing showed what might be possible. You can read Arthur’s profile here and check out his election song here (really!).

I learnt a lot about the political process in Devon by attending the count in Okehampton on election night, thanks to an invite  to be a Counting Agent from Andy Williamson. There I saw the Conservative machine in action and I don’t mean that in any bad way. The Tories in Devon (and I presume across the country) are geared up to put their candidates in a strong position and it is something that other parties should learn from.

I didn’t appreciate until Thursday night the huge amount of “staff” that a serious party might have present at the count; Local councilors, agents, counting agents and of course the candidates themselves all present. I attended as a counting agent, strictly speaking to observe and challenge any discrepancies but it was interesting to see how the Tories mobilise – each of them had a clipboard and pre-printed tally charts and as each box was emptied, verified & pre-counted they were sampling and counting, in some cases quite accurately. This breakdown of voting lets them know where to target their efforts: Was Bovey Tracey “true blue” but Chudleigh marginal? Was Chudleigh Knighton a low turnout and if so is it always? Is Moretonhampstead actually anti-Tory and if so can they afford to sacrifice it and concentrate on the marginal areas where they might affect the outcome with less effort? No other party was mobilised like this. I didn’t see a labour badge until 3AM by which time the Tories had enough info to know they’d won comfortably but also how to tackle their next few campaigns. Interestingly the lack of a Labour presence on the night backs up the reports of Labour’s 35% strategy in the election. Are Labour candidates in safe Tory seats simply token efforts with no real support?

Many of the Conservative party members I spoke to at the count were surprised at the results around the country, following such a negative campaign (the “fear factor” of the SNP scare story, the personal attacks on Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, etc) and some dubious claims by the party. It was interesting to hear many agree with my suggestion that it didn’t make sense that Central Devon was a safe Tory seat given the levels of unemployment, low average wages, the lack of opportunities for the young and infrastructures under pressure due to the cuts, that many towns in Devon would seem to have more in common with traditional Labour areas than Conservative.

The recent data published on votes by age group showed that the Conservative party won by securing the over 65 vote, a demographic courted by David Cameron in the run up to the election. Was that data accurate? it is likely that his was just a poll, a sample and like all such data their is a margin of error but it does make sense. It is certainly something that Claire Wright agreed was a challenge in her campaigning, along with the fear of the SNP breaking up The Union!

What does it all mean though for an independent candidate (or Labour or Green) looking to stand and win in such a seat? I believe that a good run up is needed over several years, perhaps starting as a Town Councillor in order to build a profile and get known as someone who makes a difference. The challenge comes when one needs to tackle the whole constituency, particularly one as large as Central or East Devon; how does one find the time and money to compete with a full time politician? Most of us need to work so taking the role full-time unpaid is not realistic. Perhaps taking a lead from Arthur Price in his use of social media in order to get noticed? Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and online versions of the papers are prevalent and will likely be more so by the time of the next election,

Also something to consider is the age of voters. Does one naturally lean to the Conservatives with age or do your political beliefs remain unchanged? Is the seemingly crucial over 65 age group something that the Tories can rely on in years to come or will that Blue vote be diluted? Many disenfranchised younger people too young to vote this time around will be able to vote in 2020. Will cuts, tuition fees and a lack of opportunity push these people towards an alternative?

Much to think about, including of course, “will I stand?” but I think importantly we shouldn’t accept any seat as being safe for any one party, it is not healthy to accept the status quo without question and I am sure many politicians will agree that any party needs to be held to account in order to stay current and be sure that they are representing the electorate.

Letter to My MP, Monday 18th May 2015 – How do you balance your party’s interests with those of your constituents?

Dear Mel Stride,

firstly congratulations on your being re-elected for another term.

After listening to your answers at a couple of the hustings events in the lead up to the election I have a question which is this;

“How do you as an MP balance representing your constituents with your role as a party whip?”

For example, if your government proposes a rise in the rate of VAT. You stated at a hustings that you are strongly against a rise in this parliament but if such a rise was proposed and your role as a whip is to ensure government support, how would you resolve such a conflict? (Presuming it wasn’t a free vote)

No real reason for choosing VAT, other than it stuck in my mind. I guess in a way it is really a question as to how any MP balances party loyalties with what might actually be best for their constituents.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills