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St Johns By-election: Result and Analysis

St Johns By-election Results and AnalysisWhen we sent out the notification of our last article (The obituary for Alderman Ron Wilson) to registered readers, we also included a newsflash of the Lytham St John's Ward by-election result, and were pleased to note that Mark Bamforth had been re-elected.

Both of these men are 'amicus humani' (as one of our dear departed readers would have said). They are friends of humanity, and are driven to help other people. It's what Ron Wilson did, and it's what Mark Bamforth does.

In this article we record the official election by-election result and provide some analysis of it both locally and more widely. We also look at the result in context with other St John's Ward election results, and we consider a circumstance that may have the potential to explode in the face of those who delivered a firecracker with a leaflet on the eve of the poll.

But as well as this by-election result, we also explore a bit more widely the phenomena currently termed 'populism' and the impact that is having, both in Fylde and across the world.

SYNOPSIS

We begin with the formal Result of the 2017 St Johns Ward By-election, before Comparing it with Recent Results, them Comparing By-election results.

Then we give Our Analysis of the Local Picture, and after we delve more deeply into some behind the scenes information we find There's More. We report the arrival of an Anonymous Email at counterbalance and then find the very sensitive and personal Full Letter containing our anonymous email came was put through some Lytham St John's letterboxes on the eve of the poll.

We then take a brief look at the Bigger Picture that's underlying political change across the world, before giving Our Own Conclusions on what all of this might mean.

 THE RESULT

The February 2017 by-election result for St John's Ward was:

Mark BAMFORTH Fylde Ratepayers 564 (Elected)
Paul LOMAX Conservative Party Candidate 278
Jayne BOARDMAN Labour Party 45
Paul HILL The Green Party Candidate 40

The electorate in the ward is currently 3,621 , and 930 ballot papers were issued, so the official turnout was 26%

 HOW DOES THIS COMPARE WITH THE RECENT RESULTS?

In the full election in May 2015, the result was

Mark BAMFORTH  Fylde Ratepayers 1,607
Roger LLOYD   Fylde Ratepayers 1,028
Tim ASHTON Conservative 916
Brenda ACKERS Conservative 856
Christopher SENIOR  Conservative 585
Jose SHACKLETON  Labour 473
Paul DUNCAN Independent 390
Pam WINLOW  Liberal Democrats 192

The electorate in the ward at that time was 3,763, and 2,564 ballot papers were issued - so the official turnout was 68.2%


In the March 2014 by-election (following the untimely death of Cllr Kath Harper), the result was

Mark BAMFORTH  Fylde Ratepayers 804 (Elected)
Brenda BLACKSHAW  Conservative 205
Timothy WOOD UK Independence Party 100
Carol GILLIGAN Liberal Democrat 62
Bob DENNETT  Green Party Stop Fracking Now 53

The electorate at that time was 3,691 and 1,229 ballot papers were issued so the turnout was 33%


 COMPARING BY-ELECTIONS

It's difficult and unrealistic to compare By-elections with full elections, but By-elections with each other is a more realistic comparison.

What the comparative by-election results unambiguously show is a big reduction in turnout in 2017 compared with 2014

We've set out below some calculations that may be of interest. They show:

  • 2014 actual votes cast and the % share of the votes cast.
  • 2017 actual votes cast and the % share of the votes cast.
  2014 2017 change
Ratepayer candidate     804 65% 564 61% - 4%
Conservative candidate 205 17% 278 30% + 13%
Labour candidate No candidate 45 5% + 5%
Green Party candidate 53 4% 40 4% unchanged
UKIP candidate  100 8% No candidate - 8%
Lib Dems candidate 62 5% No candidate - 5%

It's obvious that more people decided not to vote at all this year.

It also suggests that the Ratepayer candidate (down 4%) was damaged to some extent by adverse comment about his situation.

The main beneficiary was the Conservative candidate (up 13%). This appears to have come partly as a result of a small reduction in Ratepayer support overall, but mostly because of 13% of the votes not going to UKIP and the Lib Dems (who fielded no candidates this time).

Either way, Mr Bamforth's win was handsome and commanding, with twice as many voters (61%) choosing him over his nearest competitor (30%).

We spoke with Mr Bamforth shortly after his victory and he told us he was philosophical and feeling calmer about the matter now. He is interested to see what measures Fylde will now be willing and able to put in place to accommodate his situation (especially now that the voters in St John's ward have made their intentions and desire to have him as their councillor abundantly clear).

He told us he was 'over the moon' with the result and 'highly delighted' - but he remained disgusted that personal information about him was circulated to the extent that it ended up in the public domain, and that some incredibly personal and sensitive information about him was delivered to some households in Lytham on the even of the poll. He is currently considering what to do about this matter.

 OUR ANALYSIS: THE LOCAL PICTURE

After Saint Paul Hayhurst called for other parties not to stand against Mr Bamforth - (so as to give him a clear run in this unnecessary election), we commended Fylde's Liberal Democrats for doing exactly that.

We also called on voters in St John's Ward who usually voted for one of the parties that contested the election, not to vote for them on this occasion, but to temporarily lend their vote to Mr Bamforth, partly because of the good constituency work that is his hallmark, and partly to give a 'bloody nose' to those at FBC who have been so insensitive, and handled this matter so badly. We said we hoped it might even remind them not to do it like that again.

So readers will not be surprised to hear we were delighted that the electors of St Johns Ward had chosen to restore Mark Bamforth to the special place they hold for him in their hearts and in their ward. We offer our congratulations to him - and indeed, to those voters, for their good judgement.

In doing so, the good folk of St Johns Ward have also sent a firm (2:1) message to those at Fylde Council who, shamefully, failed to do enough to allow Cllr Bamforth to remain a Fylde councillor.

These are the same people who caused this wholly unnecessary by-election, with its attendant and entirely avoidable cost to local taxpayers.

We hope they now understand just how wrong they have been seen to be in the eyes of the electorate.

But there is a wider lesson to be learned from this episode as well.

It is a lesson that both Fylde's officers, and the majority political group - (who have the final say in the overall direction the council) - should heed.

We say that because, up to now, both these groups have demonstrated they have neither accepted, nor adapted to, the fundamental change that is sweeping the world, the UK and Fylde.

It is a lesson that began in Fylde in May 2014, when local people expressed their dissatisfaction with Fylde's Cabinet system of governance, and caused a referendum to be held.

In that referendum, local people chose to vote for change.

And the change they voted for required the majority party on Fylde Council to abandon their undemocratic Cabinet system of operation - to which they were still wedded, (and for which they had campaigned vigorously, but lost).

It also required them to revert to operating the more tried and trusted Committee system of decision taking.

And, because the law required it, that change *has* been made.

But whilst the fundamentals of that Committee System are set in law and cannot be altered, it is plain to anyone who understands these matters that the majority party set about paying as little lip service to the change as they felt they could get away with. (We expect to produce a new article on this matter shortly)

The impression we receive is that, for the most part, the majority party feels that, because it has an overall majority, it need not value the wide range of skills and experience that is available from elected councillors outside their own political party. That wealth of experience which the majority party deny includes Councillors who have been elected as individuals (without any party allegiance) and those who have been elected by residents favouring one of the minority parties and who come from a different angle.

Those currently leading the majority party appear to believe that - as under the Cabinet system - they should continue to rule by something akin to divine right. This is evidenced by, for example, their use of single party Working Groups specifically to exclude non-majority-party councillors from hearing and taking part in the debates where all the analysis and information necessary to make properly informed decisions is presented by officers (corporate plan, budget preparation, detailed options for green bin subscriptions etc).

By choosing to work in this manner, by excluding the wealth of experience from those outside their own party, powerful individuals within the majority party are demonstrating to the electorate they value power, and they value their own political party, above the broader spectrum of opinion chosen to govern Fylde by the wider electorate.

It is equally true that some of the most senior officers at Fylde are letting both themselves, and those outside the majority party down badly - by not requiring, and by not ensuring, the existence of a proper level playing field from which all councillors can operate.

The combined effects of these issues give rise to the phrase we are hearing a lot these days: 'They just don't get it, do they?'

The didn't get it at Fylde when, as we have shown in earlier articles, their acts (and more especially their omissions) caused Cllr Bamforth's removal from the Council when it could easily have been avoided had the will to do so existed.

 AND THERE'S MORE....

But it now transpires there has been even more going-on behind the scenes.

On 14th November, Fylde's Chief Executive wrote a (very obviously) highly personal letter or email which appeared to be destined for 'Lead Group members' or 'Group Leaders' (both terms are used in the full letter).

But there are grounds to believe it was circulated more widely. It carries the salutation 'Dear Councillor'  (ie it is not personally addressed), and it began

"Unfortunately, I find myself in a position where I have been forced to share an issue with you as a Lead Group member that really should be between the Council and the individual concerned, Mr Mark Bamforth....."

(We suppose this is the same letter/email that was referred to by Cllr Karen Buckley and Cllr Susan Fazackerley during their contributions to the debate in the Council meeting of 5th December 2016, (which we reported in our article Lytham: St John's Ward By-Election Due).

Outside its top and tail introductions and conclusions, the letter/email is essentially in three parts.

  1. A lawyer-speak response to what Mr Bamforth had said about his treatment at Fylde.
  2. A long note of additional support that was provided to Mr Bamforth when he served as an elected member
  3. Other facts in relation to Mr Bamforth's position.

Parts of that letter (and indeed in some cases, the whole of it) have found their way into the public domain when quite clearly they should never have gone anywhere near it.

We imagine, and sincerely hope, the Chief Executive is as embarrassed about this as Mr Bamforth will be.

And without going into those personal details it contains, we now put forward our own view on this letter.

We begin by addressing the central section of the letter (Part 2: Additional support to Mr Bamforth when he served as an elected member).

We do not believe that when he compiled the information in this central section, the Chief Executive did so with the intention of its being used to damage Mr Bamforth's electoral prospects. We suppose it had another purpose altogether.

The tone of its writing gave us the impression that it was not intended to become public knowledge. It also conveyed to us the impression that it was borne more of exasperation, rather than a dispassionate factual analysis of Mr Bamforth's situation we might have expected to see under such a heading.

The feeling we got from reading (what turned out to be this middle section of a longer letter) was that, essentially, it was a somewhat overblown justification that tried to place the blame for what had happened in this sorry saga more toward Mr Bamforth, and to direct it away from officers.

To paraphrase; it suggested they had done as much as was reasonably possible - and more than they did for other councillors - so it must be his fault.

 AN ANONYMOUS EMAIL ARRIVES

The middle section of this letter also arrived in the counterbalance mailbox in late January - as part of an anonymous email.

We don't mind emails being anonymous, (we routinely get anonymous tips from our readers).

It was also a critical email.

And we don't mind those either. Criticism (especially where it is constructive) helps to widen our perspective. It makes us test our own thoughts and beliefs against those of the sender, and unlike those who would surround themselves with sycophants and supporters, we think that hearing contra opinions can only be beneficial.

The email was obviously from someone who knows counterbalance well enough to use our given name as a salutation, and it began:

"Somewhat surprised at the lack of a dig into the St john's ward by-election. Mark B is a smashing bloke, but is obviously seriously ill. It will do him no good standing again, and anyone pressing for him to do so should not be counted as a friend. The Ratepayers should field someone else and let Mark recuperate, get treatment, and stand at the next elections when in better health."

(We've removed a short following paragraph that we think may be libellous about Mr Bamforth's honesty)

"His election pamphlet is riddled with typos and spelling mistakes - which is fine if you struggle with such things, but it's obviously not even been proof read."

This was followed by a sentence that suggested the writer was worried for Cllr Bamforth, and spoke of the length of time they had known him.

The email then exhorted us to bear in mind what followed - which was said to be from council officers - before we wrote about Mr Bamforth again.

There followed a long and detailed (1,300 or so words) report - which it later transpired was the middle part of  the letter the Chief Executive has sent to 'Lead Group members' or 'Group Leaders'

It came to us by email under the heading 'Additional support to Mr Bamforth when he served as an elected member'.

It names many officers within the Council, and cites a lot of instances where assistance or advice in one form or another was provided to Cllr Bamforth by those officers.

We have some experience of the workings of a council and we recognise it will have taken a very significant period of time to search diaries, emails, and files to collate and reproduce all this information. 

It goes back as far as his election in March 2014 detailing the arrangements to allow Mr. Bamforth's official photograph to be taken at his home address so he did not need to travel to the Town Hall. It goes on to say that his identity card etc were posted to him for the same reason.

In a telling section, it notes that an external trainer (who was providing computer training for new members) was emailed in August 2015 informing him of Councillor Bamforth’s  "agoraphobia" and  the word agoraphobia is in quotation marks.

To us, this particular punctuation suggests a questioning of the validity of the condition from which Mr Bamforth suffers.

We struggle with that perspective when we have seen letters from Mr Bamforth's GP and a 'NHS High Intensity Therapist' who are currently treating him for his condition. We struggle with it even more if, as we believe, that evidence has already been presented to FBC by Mr Bamforth.

There are other personal matters referred to in the section of the Chief Executive's letter/email that we will not reproduce here.

We replied to our correspondent to say we were aware of accommodations and support Mr Bamforth had received from Fylde's officers. We recognised they had done much to help him, and we had said as much in our previous articles.

But, whilst those accommodations had undoubtedly helped to avoid his removal as a councillor before now, they had - patently  - not been sufficient, because it had happened. He was removed as a councillor as a result of his medical condition preventing his attendance Council meetings for more than six months.

We also considered the purpose of the six month rule that Mr Bamforth was allowed to fall foul of. Whilst its phrasing does not give any indication of its intended purpose, we argued that a proper interpretation of its purpose must be to enable a council to remove a member who has 'walked away' altogether and become wholly unresponsive to their role as an elected representative.

We also noted that the alleged the 600-odd phone calls that officers had complained of on behalf of Cllr Bamforth's constituents was a clear illustration that Cllr Bamforth had not simply walked away.

We said we simply could not believe the legislation could sensibly have been intended as a trap for the unwary, or for use as a harassment tool for those with an illness.

We agreed with our correspondent about some layout and typographical errors in Mr Bamforth's own leaflet, but noted there is a mood afoot in the country and in the wider world to deprecate the polish of technocracy in favour of the homespun and simplistic, and we speculated that the typographical errors may not be that much of a disadvantage to him at this time - because it illustrated a human approach.

We reiterated the importance of having councillors who were primarily there to provide the human perspective of the man on the Clapham omnibus (which Cllr Bamforth does in abundance), and we concluded by hoping that we could agree to differ with our correspondent, because our respective views on this matter did not make either of us right, or wrong, they just made us different.

We did not reproduce the information that had been sent to us. We regarded much of it as being personal to Mr Bamforth, and our readers will know that we are unashamedly outspoken about the public acts and some of the decisions of those who put themselves in the public eye.

We are also known, on occasions to be critical - sometimes satirically so - of such people as well, but we will only ever address their civic persona and role.

We don't do 'personal' information on counterbalance.

It was for this reason that we did not publish the information that came to us about Mr Bamforth from the anonymous source.

But soon after we replied to our correspondent, information that appears to have come from the same email we had received, also appeared in an anonymous letter in the LSA Express.

 THE FULL LETTER IS MADE PUBLIC

But the most shocking development was that a copy of the full email did find its way into some letterboxes in Lytham on the night before the polling stations opened.

It is nothing short of disgraceful that the full text, with its highly sensitive and very personal opinions of Mr Bamforth that were set out by the Chief Executive, should find its way through people's letterboxes - and especially that they should do so at the same time that Mr Lomax's last minute election leaflet was delivered.

We make it clear at this point that there is no evidence to show it was delivered personally by Mr Lomax, or even that he knew about its being delivered. In fact there are categorical denials of this from one of his main supporters.

But we have also seen social media postings in which a well respected and well known Lytham resident complained about a six page copy of a private email from FBC about Mr Bamforth that was delivered to their house along with a leaflet from Mr Lomax.

That assertion is backed up by another resident who said

"The letter came through my door with the leaflet. When I went to pick it up they were together and had been posted together."

In the same thread (which has since been removed), a colleague of Mr Lomax notes that he (Mr Lomax) would have had nothing to do with this type of campaigning.

And when the concern continues from others who contributed to this social media thread, the colleague says

"I was out myself last evening posting lots of last minute leaflets"

before adding

 "I can assure everyone that this document was certainly not posted alongside any leaflets I posted last night or any other time"

It is perfectly possible that all these statements are true of course.

It may be that neither Mr Lomax or his colleague posted any leaflets which had an accompanying copy of what should have remained a personal and private letter relating to Mr Bamforth.

It is equally possible that someone else delivering leaflets on behalf of Mr Lomax did deliver two documents, perhaps of their own volition and without the consent or knowledge of the candidate.

As further information on this debacle emerges, it is now being suggesting that the main, (or perhaps only?), recipients of the 'double drop' (leaflet and letter) might have been people who also had 'garden stakes with campaign posters' supporting Mr Bamforth in their gardens.

But it remains the case that some people did receive both pieces of information and were unhappy to have done so.

And if that was the case - and especially if it only went to those addresses with garden stakes - then the electoral damage to Mr Bamforth will have been limited.

But it does show a deliberate intent to damage him, and that it was a pre-meditated action.

We say that not only because of the action of its delivery, but because the source email has been printed out in order to deliver it through letterboxes, and it has been given an additional heading which says:

"Dear Resident

Please see below an email from the CEO of Fylde Council to Mark Bamforth which is self explanatory"

The email from the Chief Executive follows the heading and runs to 6 paper pages.

The delivery of this letter raises the prospect of electoral malpractice and arguably the more important issue of how such personal and private information might have found its way into the public domain to be used in this way.

This latter aspect remains important even if the impact of the 'double drop' incident is limited to garden stake properties - because at least parts of the letter were also being circulated to the media (including ourselves).

We expect to see this extremely unpleasant episode result in further action or investigation to identify those who produced the letter from the CE's original email, and those who distributed it.

Locally, like the inaction that removed Cllr Bamforth in the first place, it has been a very unsavoury and unpleasant incident altogether. It has exposed some of the most uncivilised electoral conduct we can recall, and those involved in it are shamed by it.

The one positive aspect we can take from this debacle is that despite what should have been private and confidential information being used in an attempt to smear him by what may be a variety of individuals, the two-to-one by-election result in favour of Mr Bamforth is as clear a public rejection of the present way of doing things as one might ever hope see.

 OUR ANALYSIS: THE BIGGER PICTURE

It is a fact that Fylde's own local governance referendum overturned the status quo.

It is also true that the UK's Brexit referendum did the same, as did the election of the US President and the Italian Prime Minister's referendum campaign was lost, (and we confidently expect to see this phenomena repeated elsewhere in the coming months).

In the bigger picture, Mr Bamforth's re-election is but another small eddy in a wave of fundamental change that is sweeping through peoples across the world.

The wave's main driver is undoubtedly the wholesale rejection of the impact of globalism and the growing re-assertion of nationalism and protectionist financial policies.

But we see two other supporting components of this public roar for change.

One is the growing rejection of social liberalism and of the 'political correctness' virus that has been intentionally injected into society by Marxist advocates and other supporters of the aims of the 'Frankfurt School' - such as Marcuse.

The other is a rejection of the professional spin; the doublespeak, and the sickly-sweet sanitising gloss that has been sprayed over, and has infected, all layers of government, and behind which the schemers can obscure their real intentions and motives.

 OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS

We think Fylde's majority party will have been surprised by events around Mr Bamforth's re-election.

They will have been particularly surprised at the strength of support that remains in place for him after such damaging personal information has been released into the wild.

And the point that's being lost in all of this is that Cllr Bamforth's ability to deal with the matters his residents ask him to take up on their behalf is unaffected by his condition. He does that probably as much - or maybe even more assiduously than - any other councillor. The only thing that is impaired by his health is his ability to attend meetings of the Council, and his electors are patently not as concerned about that, as are those who would call themselves his 'opposition'.

The thing is - as we said before - They just don't get it.

Just as people all over the world are saying 'we're not happy with the system we've got' - the folk in St John's Ward have just shouted it to FBC

What this election result shows is that the people of St Johns Ward want a council that has the same sort of practical and common sense approach that Cllr Mark Bamforth adopts. They want a practical council that helps them to fix the problems they have. They want councillors who represent and solve their concerns, not commanders who lead and instruct them.

They expect their council to provide - (as a former Chief Executive of our acquaintance used to say repeatedly to remind his staff) - the bins emptied efficiently; the streets cleaned properly, and pretty flowers.

They absolutely do NOT want a council that spends its time and their money gazing at its own navel whilst researching, debating and implementing a plethora of policies that have no practical purpose except to restrict future decision-taking which, itself, only means that the council is more constrained and less able to respond to changing circumstances in the future.

Consider this:

In the middle of this debacle with Mr Bamforth (July 2016), Fylde published a whole new policy document called 'Working with Councillors with Disabilities'

It says what they will do to support such people.

By implication, it might be assumed that if something is not listed in the policy (and we see no reference to it addressing the sort of problem Cllr Bamforth has, despite the fact it was published in the middle of his prolonged period of absence) then it's not something Fylde expects to do.

So we would not be surprised to see this document wheeled out now, even after Cllr Bamforth's re-election - to justify FBC not making sufficient adaptions to meet Cllr Bamforth's needs, and telling him he will have to continually apply for dispensations whenever he is medically unable to comply with the 6 month rule.

This is exactly the sort of policy that we complain of above.

It sets self imposed constraints simply to justify not adapting to changing circumstances and need as they arise.

It's the sort of thing that the voters of St John's Ward plainly do NOT want to hear, and do not expect their Council to do.

Furthermore, we see no reason to believe the wide demographic of electors in St Johns Ward might be unrepresentative of electors in the rest of Fylde either.

One of our readers (who is not in St Johns Ward) told us

"I HOPE that FBC officers and councillors will now facilitate Mark, but rather fear that some of them are small minded enough to try to get their own back"

So, we say it is for reasons such as these that, if the more sensible and responsible elements within Fylde's majority party do not wake up and smell the coffee. If they do not bring about internal change that returns proper consensus and practical common-sense working at Fylde, and if the administration does not change so that it holds real elected councillors - not their professional spin doctors - to account for their actions and decisions, then we believe the majority partly will find they're in for even more surprises in the future.

The world of politics is undoubtedly changing, and that change is as fundamental to the political process as has ever been wrought by civil war or revolution.

Henderson Global Investors have this week published a paper for their investors called "Markets and the Price of Politics" which includes the following: "Whilst Brexit and the US presidential election had their origins in domestic political dynamics, they also reflect a seismic shift in global politics that looks set to reverberate further around the world in 2017 and beyond. Politics is back."

In support of our claim that the changes are as great as those wrought by civil war or revolution, we argue that you need look no further than the USA for evidence.

The American Constitution will undoubtedly temper excesses (as it should), but the underlying force for change that delivered their political earthquake is the widespread and unheeded dissatisfaction of American electors.

The present administration in the USA might, or might not last.  But what will not change, is the generational shift that has emerged - away from the 'professionally established order' to something much more human and straightforward.

In its own scale of things, Fylde also needs to change. Those who stand in its way will feel its force, and those who don't listen will eventually pay the price.

Perhaps we need Prime Minister Theresa May to remind her flock that as well as 'Brexit means Brexit', its also the case with electors in Fylde that "Bamforth means Bamforth."

Dated:  17 February 2017

 UPDATE 12 NOON 17 February 2017

We have just heard that the Lytham resident we referred to (the first to note and speak about receipt of the 'double drop' leaflet) now has a clear CCTV image of the person who posted it through the letterbox. We understand this information has been published on social media, and the householder is allowing  the person who delivered it time to own up, and apologise to Cllr Bamforth, or they expect to publish the image. We may have a further update shortly.

 

 


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