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BREAKING NEWS: Park Ward Green Councillor Melanie Eastwood Resigns

Melanie EastwoodToday has come the news that Cllr Melanie Eastwood has resigned from Reading Borough Council causing a by-election which will take place on the same day as the other local elections – 22 May. Melanie was elected as the second Green Party Councillor in Park ward in 2011 and quickly earned a reputation as a friendly and decent ward champion. However, she clearly grew impatient with the style of debate coming from the Labour benches and the way that the ruling Labour group was able to stitch up some decisions. Melanie stood her ground and often gave as good as she got from Labour.

I have always got on well with Melanie who is far less ideological than her Green Party Park ward colleague Cllr Rob White, who was rumoured to be reluctant to share the limelight he had earned in the long campaign he fought to win the ward from Labour. I served with Melanie on the Planning Committee and always respected her willingness to stand up for what she believed to be right for her residents and for Reading.

I contacted Melanie this evening and she said, “I am heartened by how kind opposing members have been. I have enjoyed my time as a Councillor and have met many decent and hard working people across all parties including the Conservatives. It is with regret that my own circumstances have meant I can no longer continue with the level of commitment [being] a Councillor demands.” 

With two vacancies in Park ward on 22 May Labour will no doubt throw the kitchen sink at regaining both seats. They have always resented losing what they consider to be one of their heartland wards in the town centre. They will not have it all their own way as will be seen when the Conservatives announce our candidates!


March 31, 2014 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS: Crossrail to Come to Reading

Conservatives on Reading Borough Council have re-stated their long-standing call for Crossrail to terminate in Reading rather than Maidenhead. Plans published by the last Labour Government saw the new cross-London service terminate in Maidenhead rather than Reading. Thanks to the efforts of Reading East MP Rob Wilson and former Reading West MP Martin Salter, the route was protected to Reading, which could allow a change of mind to extend the service to the town.

Local Conservatives have continued the pressure to reverse Labour’s decision to terminate at Maidenhead. Conservative Councillors have lobbied Rob Wilson MP who has had numerous meetings with Ministers to press for a faster Crossrail service from Reading to Paddington at peak hours and to ensure the necessary additional investment for a premium service.

Conservative Transport Spokesman Cllr Richard Willis said, “It is time to reverse Labour’s decision to terminate Crossrail at Maidenhead. It makes no sense to have a newly improved Reading Station and not to connect this new service to one of the busiest stations in the country. I understand that a decision will be announced very shortly that Crossrail is to come to Reading.”

Rob Wilson MP said, “I have fought for years to see Reading protected as the eventual end point for Crossrail. However it is important that it is a service that enhances existing services into London even if it takes a few years. I have met with Conservative Ministers in recent weeks and am very much looking forward to the outcome of those discussions.


UPDATE: Rob Wilson MP’s statement of 27 March follows:

The Reading East MP has welcomed the Government’s announcement today that Crossrail will extend to Reading, after initial plans for the service to run only as far as Maidenhead. However, Wilson, who was instrumental in keeping the option for a Reading terminus open, said today’s announcement was only the first of a 2-stage process in delivering the full benefits of Crossrail for Reading and the wider economic area.

According to the original plans of Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, under which the Crossrail scheme was launched, services would only have run as far as Maidenhead to the west of London. Following today’s announcement, they will now run as far as Reading, replacing a planned shuttle train service between Reading and Slough. Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP said today that the extension of Crossrail to Reading is only possible as a result of the efforts of Wilson and others, who had been “closely involved” in lobbying “over many years” for Crossrail to have its western terminus at Reading, that persuaded the previous Government to safeguard the route needed for Crossrail’s extension.

In phase 1, which opens in 2019, Crossrail will not offer faster journey times between Reading and London. It is currently envisaged that Crossrail trains from Reading will take 50 minutes to reach London Paddington, around the same times as the slow, “stopper” services, and far slower than the approx 25 minute fast Intercity services that run frequently between Reading Station and London Paddington. In addition, Crossrail trains will lack many of the facilities, such as toilets and catering facilities, offered by the existing rail services. While giving a huge welcome to today’s announcement, Wilson said that it couldn’t be seen as the end of the process of extending Crossrail to Reading, and that as Minister’s accepted a “Stage 2” was needed to maximise the benefits for Reading and the Thames Valley.

In response, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond confirmed in a letter today that the Department for Transport will now order a detailed study of the benefits and costs of constructing additional loop facilities to enable faster Crossrail trains between Reading and Paddington. The findings of the study will be published alongside Network Rail’s draft priorities for rail routes in the west of Britain in October 2014. The Transport Minister acknowledged that Wilson had already made a “strong and powerful” case for improved Crossrail services between Reading and London via such additional loop facilities.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Crossrail reaching Reading is further proof of our commitment to deliver a transport network fit for the 21st century. It will improve connectivity and deliver greater choice and convenience for passengers travelling into London. It will also make better use of the already congested Great Western Main Line, freeing up capacity for further improvements including potential direct services from Reading to Heathrow as part of the Western Access Scheme.  In addition I have requested Network Rail to look as the cost benefit analysis of increasing the number of faster trains between Reading and Paddington.”

Reading East MP Rob Wilson said: “I welcome that the Government has finally confirmed that Crossrail will come to Reading. As Reading East’s MP I have fought hard to keep this option open. After the last Labour government decided that Crossrail would only go as far as Maidenhead, I (along with others) was able to persuade them to safeguard the route on which to build a possible extension. This has made today’s announcement possible.

“However, this can only be seen as “Stage 1” in the process of delivering Crossrail for Reading. This first phase will not reap the full benefits that Crossrail can and should bring to benefit people and businesses in Reading and the wider region. Because there will be so many stops between here and London, journey times to London will be no faster than they are now.

“With a bit of foresight and planning, Crossrail can and should offer a direct link between Reading and central London, the City and Canary Wharf at competitive speeds, offering greater convenience and choice to Reading’s businesses, commuters and residents. As a result of a lack of forward thinking about Reading’s needs by the Labour Government and civil servants, this opportunity risked being lost. That is why we need a “Stage 2” to make sure that the benefits of Crossrail are fully realised for people in Reading and the Thames Valley.

“I am therefore pleased that the rail minister has announced that the infrastructure improvements needed to deliver a more rapid and direct Crossrail service with fewer stops and faster journey times will be fully analysed as part of the next investment review. The relevant infrastructure could be put in place as soon as 2020/21, just two years after Crossrail services to Reading start. If places like Watford can have fast and semi-fast services on their metro trains into London, there is no reason why Reading can’t have the same.

“I have had to lobby extremely hard behind the scenes to get the Government to commit to Stage 2 of the extension of Crossrail to Reading and the full benefits it will bring, in contrast to others who have sat on their hands and were happy to take whatever they were given. Unlike them, I won’t accept second-best for Reading.”

March 26, 2014 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

New Populus Poll – Another Poll Shows Labour with Just a 1% Lead!

There is a new Populus online poll out today which also shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives down to just 1%:

      Conservative              34% (no change)

      Labour                         35% (down 3%)

                                                           Lib Dem                       10% (up 1%)

                                                           UKIP                             13% (up 1%)

All recent polls have shown Labour’s lead falling and this is the third poll in so many days which has Labour’s lead at just 1%. With suggestions of unrest on Labour’s backbenches it will be interesting to see the reaction when the first poll has the Conservatives ahead!

Populus interviewed a random sample of 2,039 adults online between 21st-23rd March 2014. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain and the results have been weighted to be representative of all British adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

March 24, 2014 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead is Vanishing!

There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times showing Labour’s lead almost vanishing. Post Budget it is now just 1%:

                   Conservative                36% (up 1%)

                   Labour                          37% (no change)

                                                     Lib Dem                         9% (no change)

                                                     UKIP                             11% (down 1%)

This poll is almost identical to the Mail on Sunday Survation poll which has the Conservatives on 35% and Labour on 36%.

33% now approve of the Government’s record with 52% disapproving, giving a net -19%. The best rating for some time.

On the leaders ratings David Cameron is on -9% (up from -14% a week ago), Ed Miliband on -31% (up from -32%), and Nick Clegg on -44% (up from -53%). Chancellor George Osborne has seen his rating improve to -6% from -33% since April 2013.

The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 12 March.

March 23, 2014 Posted by | Polls | , | Leave a comment

Reading Labour’s Leadership Troubles

labourI have been sent some interesting insights into the developing Labour leadership contest from a Reading Borough Councillor who prefers to remain anonymous. I have taken their own assessments and added a few of my own:

Rumours are rife in the Council chamber and in the local press that all is not well within the Reading Labour Group. Moves are reportedly afoot within the Labour Group to depose their leader Cllr Jo Lovelock this May after a number of years at the helm.

Whether Labour’s falling poll position nationally is starting to give local Labour Councillors and candidates the jitters remains to be seen.

Cllr Rachel Eden is reported to have thrown her hat into the ring, being forced to respond to rumours in “GetReading” on Friday 21st March, relying upon a rather bland statement about “protocols” rather than an outright denial. One thing is for sure, Cllr Lovelock is not going to go quietly…

With a leadership challenge seemingly on the cards let’s take a look at the Labour benches at the potential runners and riders:

Abbey                 Bet Tickner – stood down from a lead councillor role a year ago, unlikely to seek a front bench position again, let alone the leadership.

Abbey                Mohammed Ayub – not a prolific contributor during Council meetings so unlikely to want to lead the Council.

Abbey               Tony Page – Considered by many to be the real power behind the throne of the Labour group. Has been content to be Deputy to Cllr Lovelock and sure to be listened to within Labour group plotting sessions. If he says Cllr Lovelock should stay, who would have the courage to stand up to him?

Battle                Chris Maskell – former Mayor and current Chair of Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee. Unlikely to seek to lead the Council.

Battle                Gul Khan – another former Mayor, but seemingly happy on the back benches.

Battle                Sarah Hacker – daughter of fellow Battle Ward Councillor Chris Maskell. A possibility, and would get at least 1 vote.

Caversham        Richard Davis – extremely ambitious and known to command the support of the “Young” Labour group of activists. Stood for selection as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Reading East but was soundly beaten by Katesgrove’s Cllr Rodda. If he thinks there is a vacancy, will he stand? Probably.

Church               Eileen McElligott – pleasant person but so far has not made much impact in the Council Chamber and does not appear to have any ambitions.

Church               Paul Woodward – strong character, and probably thinks he could do it. But would he have the support?

Katesgrove        Matt Rodda – Busily running around Reading East trying desperately to find an issue to latch himself onto in order to raise his profile for 2015 whilst watching all the funds being channelled into Reading West. Rarely speaks in the Council Chamber and has yet to make any impact. Definitely not.

Katesgrove       Rose Williams – another former Mayor (many years ago now) who is well liked across the Chamber. Seems happy to remain on the back-benches and is more likely to want to be Mayor again than the leadership.

Kentwood         Daya Pal Singh – A quiet Councillor who seems happy at present on the back benches.

Minster              Liz Terry – Formerly a senior Council officer. May find it odd to lead a political grouping, let alone take over as leader of the Council. Would certainly have the support of husband Cllr Tony Jones (Redlands).

Minster              Marian Livingstone – Currently the Mayor of Reading. Unlikely to have the time to do the lobbying required to unseat Councillor Lovelock.

Minster              Paul Gittings – Recently seemed to get very riled in the Council Chamber, attacking local campaigners and being forced to issue an apology in the press. This has damaged his stock, so an unlikely candidate.

Norcot                Graeme Hoskin – Rumoured to have tried to take the top job in the past, was defeated and was cast into the back bench wilderness for a couple of years. Now back as a front bencher but probably a case of “once bitten, twice shy”.

Norcot                Jo Lovelock – Has stated her intention to stay on as the Leader, but who knows how much longer she will want to stay on the Council. Currently elected to 2016, but may stand down then, especially if husband Pete Ruhemann stands down in 2015 as rumoured.

Norcot                Peter Jones – standing down this May.

Redlands           Jan Gavin – hugely ambitious and very political operator. Rarely appears to listen to the opinions of others and can turn almost any topic into a party political issue. Unlikely to command support across her group.

Redlands           Tony Jones – A maverick who previously left the Labour group in a huff to sit as an Independent. Lucky to have been allowed back into the Group, but looking forward to being Mayor (again) next year. Will not challenge Cllr Lovelock for the leadership and would not command support among many of the “younger generation”.

Southcote          Deborah Edwards – Former Mayor, popular locally and in the chamber but does not seem to covet higher office. A possible if she chose to run.

Southcote          John Ennis – Very close to Cllr Lovelock. Unlikely to stand against her.

Southcote          Pete Ruhemann – married to Cllr Lovelock so standing against her is a domestic impossibility.

Whitley              Kelly Edwards – Quiet in the Council chamber, and seems more focussed on her professional career than on local politics.

Whitley              Mike Orton – long standing Councillor and well respected across the chamber. Probably not looking to lead at this stage of his political career. Also rumoured to be standing down at the next opportunity.

Whitley              Rachel Eden – Clearly ambitious, and currently the rumoured front runner to challenge Cllr Lovelock. Was damaged politically by her cack-handed closure of Arthur Clark Care Home and has a tendency to get emotional in debates but definitely cannot be ruled out if she chooses to challenge Cllr Lovelock. Would she be ready for the internal repercussions if she is unsuccessful, however?

The assessment – Councillors Lovelock, Eden, Davies, Hoskins and Gavin will be lobbying behind the scenes for support within the Labour Group. The final decision will probably come down to who “kingmaker” Cllr Tony Page throws his weight behind, eventually leading to an acrimonious run off between Eden and Lovelock.

There will undoubtedly be blood on the carpet and it will be fascinating to see who wins!

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

Conservatives on the Side of Business

March 14, 2014 Posted by | National | Leave a comment

New Populus Poll – Labour Clings on to a 1% Lead!

There is a new Populus online poll out today which shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives being almost eliminated:

      Conservative              34% (no change)

      Labour                         35% (down 3%)

                                                           Lib Dem                       10% (up 1%)

                                                           UKIP                             13% (up 1%)

Labour is struggling to hold onto a lead in almost all recent polls, with the biggest lead in the last few days being YouGov’s 5% Labour lead. This is also one of the few recent polls to show UKIP ahead of the Lib Dems.

Populus interviewed a random sample of 2053 adults online between 12th-13th March 2014. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain and the results have been weighted to be representative of all British adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Labour Lead Cut to 3%

There is a new Ipsos MORI poll reported today for the London Evening Standard showing the Conservatives closing the gap with Labour:

      Conservative               32% (up 1%)

                                                        Labour                         35% (down 3%)

                                                        Lib Dem                        13% (up 1%)

                                                        UKIP                             11% (up 1%)

MORI does have a reputation as being somewhat erratic month on month but this poll is consistent with other recent polls in showing a Labour lead of around 3%. It is also interesting in that again MORI shows UKIP back in fourth place behind the Lib Dems. I had expected that UKIP would be at about 20% in the polls in the run up to the Euro elections.

In further findings:

This month’s Ipsos MORI poll shows the Conservatives continuing to lead Labour on managing the economy, although they are neck-and-neck with regard to taxation policy and Labour lead on unemployment policy. One in three (35%) think the Conservatives have the best policies on managing the economy, compared with 22% for Labour; Labour lead the Conservatives on unemployment by 32% to 27%, and the two are almost level on taxation with Labour supported by 27% and the Conservatives on 25%.

The public still think George Osborne would make a more capable Chancellor than Ed Balls, although the gap between them has narrowed since we last asked this question in December 2013. Mr Osborne now has a five percentage point lead over Mr Balls, backed by 38% to Mr Balls’ 33%. This is down from an eleven point advantage for Mr Osborne in December.

Britons are split as to whether the government has done a good job on managing the economy, however – despite the Conservative lead in this area. Just under half each say the government has done a good job (47%) and a bad job (46%) at managing the economy. The public are similarly split regarding the government’s performance on keeping unemployment down (44% think it has done a bad good job, 48% a bad job). More than half (56%) think the government has done a bad job on handling taxation and public expenditure, however, with 35% saying they’ve done a good job.

However, this does represent a significant improvement for the government’s ratings since October 2011.  The proportion thinking they have done a good job managing the economy has increased from 36% to 47%, and those thinking they have done a good job keeping unemployment down have increased from 15% to 44% (ratings on taxation and public expenditure have only increased slightly from 32% to 35%).  All, though, are still below the heights Labour achieved when it was in power.

Economic optimism remains high.  Nearly half (48%) think the general economic condition of the country will improve over the next 12 months, while 25% think it will get worse, and 24% stay the same.  This gives an Ipsos MORI Economic Optimism Index (% get better minus % get worse) of +23.

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,011 aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 8-12 March 2014.


March 13, 2014 Posted by | Polls | | 4 Comments

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Now Just 2%

There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead falling to just 2%:

                   Conservative                35% (up 1%)

                   Labour                          37% (no change)

                                                     Lib Dem                         9% (down 1%)

                                                     UKIP                             12% (up 2%)

The Labour and Conservative shares are almost identical to that found by today’s ICM poll in the Guardian. The difference, of course is in the findings and relative positions of UKIP and the Lib Dems. We have now seen several polls with the Conservatives around 34-35% and Labour well under 40%.

I remind readers that most followers of UK political polling consider ICM and YouGov to be the best in the business. Although it is notable that YouGov has been more erratic than usual over the last month.

The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 5 March.

March 12, 2014 Posted by | Polls | , | Leave a comment

New ICM Poll – Tories Rise to 35%

There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian today showing Labour’s lead falling to 3% while the Lib Dems have overtaken UKIP for the first time in a while:

         Conservative              35% (up 1%)

                                                    Labour                        38% (no change)

                                                    Lib Dem                      12% (up 2%)

                                                    UKIP                              9% (down 2%)

It is only the third time since George Osborne’s “omnishambles” 2012 budget that the Conservatives have hit 35% or more in the monthly series of polls.

ICM asked who or what was “most to blame for Britain’s recent economic difficulties and the ongoing cutbacks in government spending”, and found that twice as many voters (32%) blamed “debts racked up by the last Labour government” as the “coalition’s economic management” (16%).

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 7-11 March 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

ICMPoll-Mar 14


March 12, 2014 Posted by | Polls | , | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Cut to 3%

There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead cut to 3%:

                   Conservative                34% (no change)

                   Labour                          37% (down 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                        10% (up 1%)

                                                     UKIP                             11% (down 1%)

Among men, the Conservatives and Labour are both on 35%. Among women, Labour leads by 39% to 33%.

For those readers who doubt Labour’s downward trajectory I suggest you read this.

The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 2 March.

March 5, 2014 Posted by | Polls | , | Leave a comment

New Populus Poll – Labour’s Lead Down to 3%

There is a new Populus online poll out this evening which shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives being cut to 3%:

      Conservative              34% (up 1%)

      Labour                         37% (down 1%)

                                                           Lib Dem                       10% (up 1%)

                                                           UKIP                             12% (down 1%)

Labour is still clinging onto a fragile lead which could easily dissipate in the heat of a General Election campaign.

Populus interviewed a random sample of 2055 adults online between 28th February-2nd March 2014. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain and the results have been weighted to be representative of all British adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – Labour Lead Still at 4%

There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times showing Labour’s lead unchanged at 4%:

                   Conservative                34% (down 1%)

                   Labour                          38% (down 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                          9% (down 1%)

                                                     UKIP                             12% (up 2%)

For those readers who doubt Labour’s downward trajectory I suggest you read this.

The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 9 February.

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Polls | , | Leave a comment