May-June: Dark side of the Eric

Most politicians don't like being kept in the dark. But not Eric. Nothing he likes better than to have the lights turned low of an evening - on whole streets, in fact. The old romantic.  

On a recent visit to Basildon, while no doubt wading through the grateful throng, the Chief lavished praise on Essex County Council for its "immensely brave" decision to pull the plug on over 70 per cent of street lights between midnight and 5am.

"We can't have lights burning all night on the off chance someone wants to get out and do aerobics at 3am," he declared, voicing what we've all been thinking for so long.  

Eric's sage counsel was that aside from saving a pile of wonga - and keeping communities safe at last from Olivia Newton-John's Physical being belted out in the wee small hours - these switch offs deter crooks and cads of all stripes, who are presumably too worried about stubbing a toe or falling in an unrepaired pothole to indulge their nefarious tendencies.

"It's saving a phenomenal amount of money, it's decreased crime because burglars love ambient lighting, it's nice to see the night sky and, as someone who lives in a main street that has had its lights cut off, I can get a good night's sleep," he added.

But while Eric has been slumbering soundly, others in his Brentwood & Ongar constituency have been losing a bit of shut-eye as the lights go out across Essex - not least the thieving sods who have been up all night gleefully stuffing their swag bags, apparently not so bothered about ambient light after all. Sweet dreams have probably been in short supply for the residents on the receiving too.

One alarming spike in burglaries later and the local constabulary stepped in to get the lights back on.

Essex Police did not make a direct link between the blackout and the mini-crime wave, but said lights would bring "public reassurance".

"It was because people felt vulnerable with the lights off," acting inspector Scott Kingsnorth told the Brentwood Gazette.

It's fair to say the AA isn't super-keen, either. In April, it warned that turning lights off is putting lives at risk as there is a much higher threat of accidents on unlit roads.

"Roads that are safe when lit can become unsafe with the lights switched off, but that is only shown when drivers, cyclists, bikers and pedestrians start to get hurt and killed," said president Edmund King.

Looks like the risk of 3am aerobics is just something we'll have to live with. Everyone knew there would be tough choices.

The Telegraph thought it all rather embarrassing for Eric and dubbed Pickles the "minister for darkness" - which, to be honest, at least sounds pretty cool. Filming for the new Star Wars is only down the road, Mr P. Nudge, nudge.

Now it's bad enough when burglars don't do what you said they'd do - do the exact opposite, in fact - but what can you expect from the criminal element? Not to be trusted.

It's quite another thing when there seems to be bewilderment at the highest echelons of power about whether all this switching off is a good idea or not.

For while Eric hails the brave souls at County Hall in Essex for flipping the switch of an evening, the PM doesn't seem quite so sure.

Indeed, Dave gently chastised another council, Labour-run Wirral in Merseyside, for its reluctant embracing of the dark side, tut-tutting that even in these trying times "it should not be necessary to increase council tax or turn off the street lights".

Wirral head honcho Phil Davies wondered aloud if someone wouldn't mind sorting out the "total confusion" at the top.

Dark times indeed. But, brace yourself, things could be about to get a whole lot darker for fans of Sir Eric.

The whispers are that the Chief is being eyed for a reshuffling to his old gig as chairman of the Conservative Party, where he will be tasked with giving UKIP a jolly good bashing ahead of the general election. TV presenter-turned-DWP enforcer Ester McVey is tipped for promotion to his not inconsiderable hot seat at DCLG. Say it ain't so, Dave.

Prepare for the #SaveOurEric campaign to sweep town halls across the land.