Tuesday 17 January 2017

Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election: top 10 likely issues

So what might be the main 'doorstep issues' in the coming Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election? Here are ten ideas, in very rough order of likely importance to the more thoughtful voter. I'm assuming voters will somewhat mix up national and local issues...

1. Jobs and the creation of better-quality jobs, also ways to keep local talent in the city and to attract the right types of skilled workers from abroad. This issue is tightly linked to housing and schools and transport in the city.

2. Education and the schools, especially in terms of attracting high-quality teachers and raising student aspirations (which is not the same as vapidly 'raising esteem', which has so damaged the 'millennials' generation) and levels of school discipline. There are also lingering problems around adult literacy, including digital literacy.

3. Getting a real and strong Brexit, one that works for a city like Stoke-on-Trent today and also works for the generations who are coming. That includes genuinely valuing the cultural pride that necessarily runs alongside Brexit and which will help make it a success.

4. Offering a roadmap on how we move toward a sustainable and nimble NHS. In the shorter term: cleaner hospitals; more midwives and matrons; and the need for shorter waits to get a doctor's appointment. Everyone knows that the headline problems at A&E have their root in the doctors' appointment system. For some voters the pressure on the doctor's surgery may be linked with immigration. The time available with a doctor may be linked to the city's mental health and loneliness issues, re: needing a longer and more discursive talk.

5. National measures to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry, especially lowering or doing away with the green taxes/regulations which can cause crippling energy costs for the factories. The city dodged a bullet on that when we voted for Brexit, but such taxes and regulations must not be allowed to creep back onto the agenda.

6. Transport, specifically the high levels of road traffic congestion in the city. Also our very high levels of deadly roadside air pollution, re: invisible particulate 'dust' breathed in from the air when walking or cycling along main roads. Then there's the generally poor and expensive bus services in the city, made worse by the congestion and also by the "you need to change buses in Hanley" thing that's required to get to many destinations.

7. Home electricity prices, since the high winter bills will be coming through the letter-box just before the election. This has a national/city dimension, in terms of the measures needed to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry. Especially scrapping the green taxes/regulations/red-tape which can lead to rising energy costs in our pottery factories.

8. Serious crime, of course, especially hard drugs. Although the local police consistently keep on top of hard drugs rather well, and reportedly keep out dealers and gangs from Birmingham and Manchester and Nottingham. Some voters will also probably link serious crime to the regular media reports about the inability to deport proven criminals, although such reporting seems to have become less frequent under the Conservatives.

9. The cost of renting a home, the quality and control of private landlords. Local house purchase prices, being low, are not so much of an issue for many first-time buyer couples as they are elsewhere in England.

10. Anti-social behaviour such as the shouty groups who persistently hang around and blight Hanley (the city centre). Litter and ugly graffiti will also be very noticeable when people are walking to the polling station.

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