Thursday, 13 September 2018

Nottingham West & Beeston has the makings of Britain's largest Parliamentary constituency

On 27 October 2011 I gave evidence in person, at their invitation, to the Boundary Commission for England then in the process of carrying out a Parliamentary review. At the time their own proposal for the Greater Nottingham area looked like this (click on the map to enlarge):

I took their map and drew my own lines in blue and red so that it was easier to see their proposals.

I lived in Lenton in 2011 and the BC proposed a new 'Nottingham South & West Bridgford constituency' — which the national Labour Party did not oppose, but many local Party members like myself did. Our MP, Lilian Greenwood, asked me to see if I could come up with some alternative proposals — which I did.

The BC final recommendations were published in 2015 and had been changed to create a Nottingham South West and Beeston constituency. I like to think that my written evidence and the address I made in person influenced their decision. Here is what I said on 27 October 2011 in Derby:

'My Nottingham South West & Beeston proposed constituency.

I live in Lenton, which is a thriving inner-city community with its own ward and councillors (thanks to the efforts of local residents like myself and the support of some local councillors and our then MP). 

As a community we actually gravitate south west to Nottingham University and Beeston. We are very much like the neighbouring ward of Wollaton East & Lenton Abbey, insomuch as in each ward some 70% of local residents are in full-time education and there are far more private landlords than there are owner-occupiers. We share the same bus routes (there is a bus every 2 minutes between Nottingham city centre, Lenton, Beeston and Chilwell)… The two main Nottingham University campuses are in Wollaton East and Lenton Abbey ward. The large Lenton Industrial Estate and the Boots complex straddle the Beeston – Lenton border.

I and countless others go to south west to Beeston or to the city centre to shop and socialise. We rarely go to West Bridgford, unless it is to a football or cricket match'.

The 2015 proposals died a death and when the next consultations began I was about to have major surgery and needed what energy I had to get through a day! The good news for me at the time was that the BC stuck with the idea of pulling Beeston into Nottingham South and many of the comments submitted supported the idea that Beeston should join Lenton and the city, rather than remain part of Broxtowe. Below is an extract from the BC's final recommendations map published earlier this week. There is a link to the BC's map here (click on the map to enlarge):

I admit to being fair chuffed at what I said, together with the evidence I submitted, in 2011 has stuck. At the time I was the only person who suggested pulling Beeston into Nottingham South. A few others submitted evidence in 2011 supporting my proposal.

I have to admit that I had lost track of what was happening, despite a couple of previous posts to Beeston Week about the Parliamentary boundary changes (see May 2015 and September 2016 posts).

A Labour Party member on Saturday asked 'What will this mean for Greg Marshall, the Party's prospective candidate for Broxtowe at the next general election?

Well, the proposals have to be adopted by Parliament before they come into effect at the next general election which, if Parliament runs its full term, will be 2022. However with 50 MPs disappearing that might persuade them to vote down the Government's support for the changes. After all the last set of proposals died a death, so why not these?

Labour politicians say that the proposed changes favour the Conservatives (which appears to be true) but the present constituency boundaries favour Labour and the SNP. What you get with a numbers based first past the post voting system is rough justice. Nottingham West and Beeston, as the new proposed constituency is named, is one of the larger ones in terms of numbers, despite that fact that should the student vote ever be persuaded to register, then we could be looking at a constituency of c.90,000 voters, the largest in England, if not Britain!

Now back to Greg Marshall. He could just move with Broxtowe and lose Beeston whilst gaining Hucknall and Lilian Greenwood loses Clifton and gains Beeston. It seems fair and simple enough and, in all honesty, I would have no problem with supporting Lilian, but I don't like the idea of Labour Party members having no direct say in who they choose as their prospective candidate, be it a council or a Parliamentary election — which means having open selection contests in every new constituency. A constituency wide vote as to whether Lilian gets it without a selection contest could result in a good few Beeston Labour Party members feeling less than happy at having no real say in who gets to be their candidate at the next (2022?) election.

Ideally I want this set of Boundary Commission for England proposals to die a death like the 2015 proposals. The best way for this to happen is a snap general election and, given the present state of things, it could happen!

I have been in the Labour Party since just before my 16th birthday in 1960 and, since 1961, a supporter of proportional representation. As I have said before I will accept the same 'added member system' as they use in Scotland and Wales, despite believing Party lists are anti-democratic from a voter's perspective.

I also think MPs should be elected for Parliamentary constituencies based on district and unitary council boundaries topped up to c.600 MPs by added MPs to ensure political parties which do not win seats under first past the post, but win lots of votes nationally, get a level of representation which fairly reflects that vote, but this is an argument for another day.

Right now I'm pleased with the outcome (if we have to have the unfair voting system we have). It has been a long time coming!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

How many £250,000s' does it take to make a Nottinghamshire doughnut?

Nottinghamshire County Council
is offering Beeston to make part of a doughnut 

Four more stories on the BBC News today* about the County Council's plan to create a unitary Nottinghamshire Council, which excludes Nottingham City Council (already is a unitary council).

The first one says the County Council has voted itself £250,000 of our money to progress the idea and to carry out 'a consultation'.  This decision was made with the help of four Mansfield Independent Forum county councillors and (I am assuming) the support of the Conservative leader of Broxtowe Borough Council. The best the Conservatives have been offering Beeston since they came to power is crumbs

Broxtowe Conservatives feed Beeston crumbs

The second story says that a Mansfield Independent Forum council on the said district council is moving a motion opposing the idea and expects MIF's county councillors to support him.

The third story was about Ashfield councillors who walked to County Hall in West Bridgford to demonstrate their opposition to the County Council's plan.

Nottingham City Council may offer Beeston the chance to join them in the kitchen so we can all eat better and grow healthy together

The final story was that Nottingham City Council has reiterated its own proposal, should the County Council's plan ever grow legs, to propose the extension of the city council area to include the Greater Nottingham conurbation.

So, what does Beeston want?

To be part of a county council doughnut,

To continue surviving on Broxtowe crumbs

or to be in the kitchen helping to make Greater Nottingham a healthy place to live?

The Conservatives in Broxtowe offer us crumbs and I wonder how many more £250,000s Nottinghamshire County Council will spend on its power grab?

Broxtowe Borough Council is running short of money, hence the support of its Leader for the Council Council's 'doughnut' solution.

Logic says we should support Nottingham City Council and to share Beeston's enterprise with the wider conurbation.

* NOTE.  All the stories have disappeared from the visible BBC News website before I could provide links. 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

For Lorna

I had a good day at The Garage, supporting Beeston & District Civic Society where they and other local groups gathered to celebrate and promote the first of two Heritage Open Day weekends in and around Beeston (there are more events next weekend).

Whilst folding and handing out copies the Beeston Blue Plaque Guide as well as my Beeston map, I got to talk with lots of interesting people, including a lady called Lorna. This posting is for her.

I got into a conversation with Lorna about maps, especially local maps, and how they can help us see, and understand, the world a little differently. Lorna mentioned The Meadows in Nottingham, where she had done some work involving maps with students, which prompted me to remember our very first issue — hence the image below.

Why we asked for this photograph to be taken is explained in the Cover Story, which appeared on page 2 (click on the 2nd image to enlarge and read the text more clearly).

Looking now at what we wrote all those years ago we wouldn't change a word.

As I say, this is for Lorna, but if you enjoy and agree then I'm glad.

PS. I apologise if the text is small, but it is readable on my computer. If you would like a more legible copy of the text, please contact me. Robert.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Making sure we all have a say in the future of Beeston and compiling a dossier of comparative data

The boundary marker dated 1933 which you can see on Broadgate and is within sight of Beeston town centre — that is how close Beeston is to Nottingham (historically, the parish of Lenton, which voted to become part of the then Nottingham Borough Council in 1877). Given the opportunity, will Beeston vote to do the same?

The following piece by me appears in the latest edition of the Beeston & District Civic Society Newsletter, but first what does not appear is the table below showing council tax band charges by local authority and location in and around Nottingham. Because of parish and town council charges, different rates are paid depending on where you live. My list uses the council tax rates applicable to the urban areas which may decide to go with Nottingham rather than the county.

I would prefer that Beeston joins with Nottingham City Council and not Nottinghamshire County Council, should Broxtowe Borough Council be abolished, simply because Beeston is part of the same conurbation as Nottingham and has more in common with the city than Bingham, Mansfield, Newark, Retford or Worksop, for example.

Click on the table to enlarge.

Nottingham's council tax charge is, for band D, £106 higher per annum than Beeston (£2.03 per week), but Beeston residents benefit directly from many city services and facilities (subsidised bus routes, such as the L10 and L11, theatres and museums, Highfields Park, the tram, so the list could go on). These are all points and arguments you will hear and read about many times over the coming months.

I strongly believe that should Nottingham City Council decide to make a counter proposal to the county council's it will do so in a way which which gives Beeston more control over its own affairs and that has to be a good thing by any measure. 'Partnership working' in some form has to be the way forward. 

Now, the piece by me which appears in the latest edition of the Beeston & District Civic Society Newsletter:

Who will decide Beeston’s future?

On 12 July 2018 Nottinghamshire County Council proposed the creation of a unitary ‘doughnut’ county council. This would result in the abolition of all the county’s district councils. Nottingham City Council would continue to exist in splendid isolation. 

Should the County Council’s proposal reach the point where it is formalised, Nottingham City Council has indicated it may submit a counter proposal to extend the city’s boundary to create what can best be described as a ‘Greater Nottingham City Council’ covering the conurbation.

What does all this mean for Beeston?

Well, to some extent, that will depend on us.

Do we see the County Council’s proposal as none of our business, a threat or an opportunity?

For my part I see it as an opportunity.

To begin with, a reading list which might be helpful, so that a historical perspective can be part of our reasoning. I would like to suggest five titles, one of which I have yet to find a copy:

The Illustrated History of Nottingham’s Suburbs by Geoffrey Oldfield, published by Breedon Books, 2003.

A History of Basford Rural District Council, 1894–1974 by Geoffrey Oldfield, published by Basford R.D.C., 1974.

A Centenary History of Nottingham Edited by John Becket, Manchester University Press, 1997.

Local Government Reform, Urban Expansion and Identity: Nottingham and Derby, 1945–1968 by R P Dockerill, School of Historical Studies, Leicester, 2013 (

The fifth title, What Shall We Do With the Erewash Valley? by (Stapleford) Councillor Stanley Woods, 1947, is a pamphlet I have yet to read, but it is quoted in R P Dockerill’s thesis*. It interested me because chairing the Midlands Regional Museums Service in the 1970s and East Midlands Airport in the 1980s led me to the conclusion that we need a ‘twin city’ approach to the Derby/Nottingham conurbation and that there could be some merit in a Erewash/Browtowe unitary council acting as a buffer between the two city councils, should any future partnership arrangement come about. Stanley Woods seems to have understood this 70 years ago.

* See his reference Hancock Local Government Commission Consultation with local authorities: Nottingham County Borough Council (National Archives search ref. T 184/298). 

The map I have included provides a web link to an excellent Phd dissertation by R P Dockerill. 

Together, what all these writers make plain is that proposed local government changes to boundaries and powers rarely happen, and when they do the outcome can be less than satisfactory. The late Geoffrey Oldfield, a respected and well known local historian who lived in West Bridgford, wrote in the Introduction to his Illustrated History of Nottingham’s Suburbs: ‘The urban districts and smaller parts of rural districts (around Nottingham) escaped becoming administratively part of the city in 1974. Under local government re-organisation they were absorbed into four new district councils. This did not affect the reality of their affinity to the city as suburbs’ (hence 14 entries for suburbs outside the city, including Attenborough, Beeston, Bramcote and Stapleford, complete with excellent potted histories).

A Centenary History of Nottingham contains an excellent chapter/essay: ‘The government of the city, 1900–1974: the consensus ethos in local politics’ by Nick Hayes, which ends with a brief reference to how we ended up with ‘post-1979 conviction politics’. In reality, the halcyon consensus days of local government were coming to end in the 1960s, with the abuse of aldermanic elections and the exclusion of opposition councillors from new style policy committees on some councils (aldermen with votes were abolished in the 1970s).

I admit to being no fan of, exclusive, conviction politics and believe that, when it comes to government, consensus works best, and I see this as one of the prizes to be won if local government is re-organised in and around Nottingham. How we elect councillors and councils has to be part of the outcome. I believe the London Assembly, Scottish and Welsh proportional added member voting system should be extended to include England too.

For this to happen, all of us need to understand, and engage, in the entire process. Too many local and national politicians have narrow agendas which exclude the wider community. The decimation of towns like Beeston, be it the townscape or what it can decide for itself, can be reversed. Now is the opportunity we have never had before.

I believe Beeston & District Civic Society could play a leading role in the process, perhaps organising a public briefing on the proposals and the history of local government change in the Beeston area over the past 100 years.

Understanding the past is the best way to ensure a better future for Beeston.

Robert Howard

799 words.


A rusting extant City of Nottingham boundary marker on Broadgate, in sight of Beeston town centre.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Rosie Lea's Tea Room has a temporary resident, so watch where you sit!

Rosie Lea's Tearoom on Wilkinson Avenue, which runs between Wollaton Road and the car park in front of the Council offices, is one of my two favourite Beeston eateries now that Mason & Mason has gone (the other is Local Not Global on Chilwell Road). The trouble is it's too close to home for me to visit as often as I would like.

Yesterday we called in for a snack lunch and I ended up having Rosie Lea's 'All Day Breakfast', which came with generous portions plus two pieces of toast and butter, for just £5.25. The Earl Grey tea rivals Rudyards on the High Road and for two came in a very large pot.

During our 90 minute stay we were watched over by a friendly snake of sorts. Well, I say 'snake', but I will let this pic of our companion speak for itself:

On Tuesday a customer brought this home-grown cucumber in as a gift. The face was added in the tea room. It was friendly enough, although I'm sure I saw it move. Reminded of Metro's annual Halloween guests, which I have featured in a past post.

Rosie Lea's Tea Room, despite its town centre location, is a little off the beaten track. Here they are on a map I posted in March 2018:

Monday, 13 August 2018

Voting, age and representation – what can numbers and polls tell us?

Below, a collection of tables and links I have captured, prompted by a BBC News report on 10 August 2018 which told me what I know, but presented the information in such a stark way that I felt unable to ignore what I saw and that I need to try and do something about it. More than what I occasionally do anyway — which is to stand at the west entrance to the main campus of Nottingham University handing out Labour Party leaflets encouraging students to register as voters.

I will come back to this in a bit, but here are the tables I mention above, taken from the BBC News report:

Click on the tables/graphs to enlarge

What struck me was the shared symmetry in each graph. It made me wonder how common this symmetry might be across a range of political questions and data. For my part, as a 74 year old, I am with the 18–24s in every graph: I would vote remain if there was a 2nd referendum; I would stay in the single market and I support the free movement of people and I have come to the conclusion that there has to be some kind of vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and I would choose a 2nd referendum if that was the only option.

Despite understanding why young people make assumptions about oldies, such as myself, it doesn't stop me feeling annoyed at the fact that many of their assumptions are wrong and often ignore their own shortcomings as a group.

If more young people took an interest in politics and voted then I would be much happier. The chances are that the quality of life for everyone in the UK would be much better than it is. My wife, Susan, and I, like countless other over 65s have always voted and continue to do so. It prompted the question in my mind 'When did the number of young people voting drop?' and what I found can be seen in the table below (remember, click on the image to enlarge):

1970 was the first general election in which 18 year olds could vote in and maybe contributed to the spike in 18–24 year old voting that occurred that year. In 1966 young voters were on a par with over 65 voters. What jumps out are the general elections from 1997 to 2017. I wonder what part young people staying in education longer played in the downturn?

Once upon a time most young people would have left full-time education at 15 (16 if they had attended a grammar school or a college of some sort). Most of us though left school at 15 and found ourselves in a world of work, surrounded by men and women of all ages, many of them having lived, worked or fought through two world wars. You sat in canteens or or rest rooms during breaks listening to the gossip, the banter, the football (cricket during the summer) and talk about politics. The national newspapers people read told you their politics before they uttered a word, and there were a lot more newspapers then.

Our MPs were different too, a lot less precious and, I suspect, better known, mainly because nearly every household at the beginning of the 1960s read a local newspaper of some kind. In Wembley, we had two weekly papers and our two MPs featured in every issue. We had three London evening newspapers to choose from: The Standard, The Star and Evening News. Pop, my grandfather read the Wembley News, the Evening News and The People on Sunday. For my part I had a newspaper round from when I was 7 until I was 14, so I got to see who read what and looked at them all. The point of this ramble is to remind myself and you, my reader, that we got our news and politics different before TV took off. TV news was in its infancy and BBC radio's news was mainly national and stilted at best.

Thinking all this led me to think about where our MPs have come from, class and occupation wise. Again the tables and graphs show us in stark terms how the world of politics has changed over the last 50 years.  Here is a graph and a table from the House of Commons Library website:

The table below is from the same report and relates just to Labour MPs (this is not made clear in the table's heading).

Here is the report's cover:

The graphs and table tell you a great deal about why Labour's fortunes have changed over the years and it has alienated many voters of my generation. In a nutshell, as the occupations those who become Labour MPs has changed, so has the attitude of the Party to its core voters has changed.

The word which I have used for many years now to describe the attitude of all too many Labour Party activists, Labour councils and governments councillors and MPs is 'disdain'. Gordon Brown caught the moment forever when he was caught on film describing a 65 year old working class woman, who challenged him over the economy and immigration, as 'bigoted' (See Guardian link here). 

As a party, Labour does little to engage with the wider community, except in its own interests. I know this first hand from decades of being a community activist, often fighting a local Labour Establishment.

The occupations of Labour councillors, I am sure, have also changed in a way which mirrors the demise of working class MPs among Labour MPs.

The evidence for my argument is there to be seen above table and graphs. 

Of course how political parties communicate with the the public at large has changed with the coming of the digital 24/7 media. There is also, in my view, a growing disconnection between the world we live in and the ones many choose to immerse themselves in. It is a form of escapism; a way of making the present bearable.

As to how we deal with these challenges I have to admit I have no answer. My 19 year old grandson is a Labour Party member and student activist in Wales. We agree on most things political, but we see different things, hear different things. For example I have no experience of anti-semitism in the Party, whereas he has and it, rightly, disturbs him.

Like me, he is no fan of Momentum or Labour First. Few voters share the certainties of either. In the end I believe Labour has to be the Party of consensus not dogmatism; of empowerment not control; of localism not centralism,  because it is in the former that we find the global, shared, experience and, yes, internationalism which should underpin any claim to be a socialist.

Finally, last Sunday's 'Reunion' programme on BBC Radio 4 brought together the founders of the Social Democratic Party for an all too short 45 minute discussion. Of those who made the Limehouse Declaration in 1981 only Roy Jenkins has passed on. David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams all took part, as did a few other founding members. It made fascinating listening. David Owen impressed me. Did the SDP have an effect on the Labour Party? The answer has to be 'yes'. Anyone active during the Militant madness of the 1980s knows that we should be grateful for that.

Right now the Labour Party seems destined to repeat history, much as I hate saying it.

A FOOTNOTE: This morning (Thursday 16 August 2018) I opened an email from Anna Soubry, which contained a thoughtful piece headed 'Political We can't go on like this' in which I found echoes of this post. At one point she says, not for the first time, 'It is surely only a question of time before the more moderate Labour MPs, members and supporters face the reality and leave to form a new movement'.

I have emailed her office suggesting that she listens to last Sunday's 'Reunion' programme of Radio 4. At the time their actions were seen even by many ordinary members of the Labour Party and critics of Militant as self-serving, and destined to split the left coalition (for that is what Labour is and always has been) to the advantage of the right and the ever opportunistic Liberals. And so it did for a while.

I suspect many Labour MPs understand this and are sitting on their hands waiting...

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Where would draw the line if you were creating a council to replace Broxtowe Borough Council?

Over the past week I have had about a dozen conversations about the future of Beeston and Broxtowe. Not one person has opted to become part of a unitary Nottinghamshire local authority comparable to Nottingham City Council in status. Most agree with me that Broxtowe as a council has never made sense. Several have mentioned joining up with Long Eaton (and by default, Erewash Borough Council). Given the close working relationship there has been between the two councils (sharing backroom services and staff) it is an idea with some merit if the cross-county nature of such a council could overcome those who see county boundaries as set in stone.

'Erewash stretches from Little Eaton to Long Eaton'. The impression this creates is rather different to the geographical reality. Like Beeston and Eastwood, the two places have no direct link unless you follow rivers. In other words, as presently defined Erewash makes no more sense than Broxtowe, but what the map below shows is that a council centred on the Erewash Valley would make geographical sense and from this follows political sense.

If you don't want to go in with Nottingham even though we are part of the same conurbation, then you have to look for links, and geography and the urban area to the west and and north-west of Beeston offer an option. The question is where would you draw the lines if you were trying to keep Beeston separate from Nottingham?

Click on the map to enlarge.

Over the next week I will add some data about council tax, population and registered voters for Erewash, Broxtowe and Nottingham.