IF EVER there was a key seat for the Tories to defend then it is Ockendon. For many it is the key seat in the borough.
The Tory strategy appears to be, judge us on our record over the past four years.
Incumbent councillor, Barry Johnson got into politics to serve his community, “to put something back”. After winning by 14 votes, he set about working in the community with campaigns such as the Bentons Farm in Mollands Lane.
Barry has always been at the end of the phone, ready to robustly promote the cause and defend the corner.
Barry came to the fore when he took on the finance portfolio. Some say that his work with Director of Finance Martin Hone laid the foundations for a much more financially sound Thurrock Council. We are inclined to agree with that and Labour should be wary of trying to take too much credit.
He is also part of three Tory councillors in one ward that appear to work together as a unit. Whereas in other areas, one does the donkey work and the others get off scott-free (see Homesteads, Chafford for details) the trinity of Carr, Arnold and Johnson work really well.
Barry also put a lot of work into making sure T-Fest worked and displayed a great deal of civic pride.
What may count against Barry is that he was, along with all the Tory councillors in Ockendon and Aveley, were hardly the greatest campaigners for Jackie Doyle Price in 2010. They will either need to count on campaign manager Rob Gledhill rallying some troops into Ockendon or as Barry will say, rely on his record and quietly go from door to door.
If Barry loses then it will be a shame. In many ways, in a fluffy world, it would be good to see a “Cabinet of all the talents” but we guess that the “You say outsourcing, we say privatising” puts the kybosh on that.
Barry robustly defends the outsourcing argument. Let the public decide.
The Labour candidate, Aaron Kiely has been active in student and green politics for quite some time. A likable young man, his campaigning is something of a contrast to the Conservatives. Every weekend they have had dozens of Labour activists walking the streets of Ockendon.
Aaron’s key advantage is the national scene. Regardless of the hard work councillors have done, the issues of employment, health cuts, tuition fees will rank first for people. The fear of the ‘too quick, too deep” argument regarding the coalitions economic policy may also scare. The fact is that people may translate Grays Beach Park, Thameside Theatre and the village halls as symptomatic of a national policy.
If UKIP did some work in the ward then they may make inroads but we would be surprised if we see Jill Broad in the ward. Even so, their very presence plus BNP may spell more trouble for Barry Johnson.
Prediction: Labour gain: 45 maj
Jill Broad (United Kingdom Independence Party)
Barry Johnson (Conservative)
Aaron Kiely (Labour)
Karne McGinn (British National Party)
David Shirley (Liberal Democrat)
YT caught up with councillor Johnson to reflect on the last four years and the battle ahead. We apologise for the poor sound.