It was a strange place for the red mist to descend. A railway car park in the snooty Surrey town of Weybridge. I was putting my £3.50 into the ticket machine when I spotted a notice from Elmbridge Borough Council which told those of us who had the temerity to pay for our parking spot rather than leave our car for free in the street that there was to be an increase from 1 April.
My bet was that a 10 per cent rise would be the top whack. In a climate where customers were lending money to banks to keep them solvent and where new-builds in Bury could be bought for the price of a pomegranate, anything else would be scandalous.
I was quite wrong.
As I worked my way down the notice I saw in 2pt type (this article is in 9pt) the number they had in mind. And the red mist came crashing down. All-day parking was going up by £1.50 a day to £5 a day — a whopping 43 per cent hike. A quick check of my pay packet confirmed that I had not received a 43 per cent pay rise lately.
I felt like punching somebody. It’s tough to identify civic leaders as they walk down the road. Why don’t they wear yellow fluorescent jackets (everybody else seems to) with the word councillor on the back?
When I got home that night I was still seething. The first thing I did was call my local MP Philip Hammond on his mobile. I was certain that he would be outraged. After all, he was shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and although the Tories don’t believe in much these days, they would be hostile to a 43 per cent rise in anything with the notable exception of their second homes. Surely a sympathetic ear since the car park is a monopoly (bad) and governments of every colour want us to travel by public transport (good). Mr Hammond’s reaction was unexpected. He left me a message containing the telephone number of the leader of Elmbridge Council and said he would be expecting my call.
Frankly he didn’t want to get involved. A constituent’s concerns were far too low down a politician’s priorities.
Next I spoke to the ‘leader’. His explanation was that the charges were low compared to other stations in the area and they had carried out a survey showing non-locals were coming into the area to park there.
I didn’t believe him. No motorist I know drives out of his way to find a cheaper station car park. After all, you must rob a bank first before filling up your Mini. So I asked him to send me the results of the survey and its methodology as I use that car park every day and had never seen any of the survey’s findings. That was a month ago. You will be unsurprised to learn that there is still no sign of the survey.
Finally I emailed my local councillor aptly named Dearlove. The chap is a local estate agent and presumably doesn’t make the trip to Waterloo all that often, and anyway, with the state of the housing market, is unlikely to make enough money this year to buy a ticket.
You will be unsurprised to learn that he never replied to my complaint. The reason is that he voted for the rise in the first place.
So I was defeated. Impotent. A neuter. The man who put the toss in testosterone. Then the light bulb went on (no, not the Kinnock light bulb) — yes, I could do something to stop that rise. I could stand against Mr Dearlove in my ward as he was coming up for election on 1 May.
So I pottered down to the council offices where the electoral officer informed me I could spend £600 plus 5p per elector on my campaign. Eat your heart out Peter Hain. I rustled up ten neighbours in the ward to support me and then faced the reality of trying to get elected.
Last time the Tories got 1,000 votes, the Lib Dems 500 and Labour 70. The first casualty of my entrance into local politics was Labour, who aren’t bothering to fight the ward. This is the first occasion that the socialists haven’t wanted to give me a bloody nose for at least 25 years.
Next came the important task of writing my manifesto. I decided to make it simple, mainly so Mr Dearlove could understand it. Policy No. 1 was cutting the price of parking in the area. We want more people to use the station car parks instead of the streets and encourage more people into the town to shop.
Secondly, I want to reduce the pay for the leader of the council, who has just had a 40 per cent increase to take his money for this part-time job to £16,000 a year. The socialists introduced pay for councillors presumably as part of a make-work programme in the north. It was never intended as a job. It’s bad enough that 630 folk in Westminster have their noses in the trough, we don’t want thousands more. So I want the leader to go back to his old pay packet and if he doesn’t like it, then the good folk of Elmbridge will have to say a fond farewell. He will always be welcome at the Christmas party.
Finally, I want to see the final salary pension schemes scrapped for town hall employees. How ridiculous that non-state workers — the nation’s wealth creators, who have seen their final salary schemes abandoned by their companies, have to fund these pen-pushers. Unbelievably, final salary schemes represent 20 per cent of our council tax. I don’t want these people retiring at 60 with gold-plated schemes while the rest of us have to keep going because we can’t afford to quit as our pensions are not good enough.
I printed off 2,000 leaflets and then, in my spare time, set off around the ward distributing them.
By and large I received a positive reception. Lots of shouts of good luck mainly from the older voters, but it wasn’t always so positive. I did bump into one chap, handed him a leaflet and asked if I could look forward to his support. His answer was firm. ‘No. Piss off.’ I presume he had relatives in the Liverpool area.
Come next Thursday night, you will either be watching the birth of the Red Mist party, a new phenomena in local politics, or the demise of a silly old fool who lost his temper at a £5 parking charge and lost another £600 to prove his point.
For those who haven’t yet died of boredom, I will be sending a letter to the Spectator editor telling you how I did — frankly, if I beat the socialists I’ll be cracking open the Cloudy Bay!
Kelvin MacKenzie Is A Columnist For The Sun.