Independent Candidate Caroline Endersby and a joke that is wearing rather thin

EndersbyThe joke really is wearing thin, the one where the Independent Group pretend they are not a party. Self-styled “new temporary leader of the Independent Group” Cllr Brian Ayling now describes Caroline Endersby as “the official Independent candidate”. Official! How can this be so unless there is an organisation to make it so?

If party politics really has no place in local government then you either have uncontested elections, or independent versus independent. If you really feel obliged to prefix independent with ‘official’ then you are accepting the role of parties. If Cllrs Ayling and van Looy cannot understand this then it is no wonder that they are so unsuited to their roles as St Luke’s councillors.

Brian then also states that “being a good local Councillor requires … some experience of how local Government works”. So, what of Cllr Paul van Looy then, before he was elected? Or Mark Sharp, Brian’s chum in Milton? Or most of the Independent Group before they were elected. Yet another example of Cllr Ayling facing both ways when it suits him.

He also makes the claim that “Caroline is the only candidate who actually lives in the ward”. Nominations have not closed and Brian cannot possibly know this. It is misguided or a lie – take your pick.

Round and round

The last few days have seen me become a bit of a minor bureaucrat as I chase around ensuring nomination papers are completed. This is not an onerous task, but the implications behind a mistake verge on catastrophic. This makes for a nervous few days for those of us tasked with running a borough-wide campaign.

Nominations opened yesterday, and in ten days nominations close. At that point we will discover who is standing and where. It is a fairly straightforward question for the three main parties – all (or almost all) seventeen wards will have candidates. It is the presence of the minor parties that is always a little intriguing. How many from the Green party will be standing, what Independents will there be, have UKIP managed to improve their local organisation, is the far-right showing its face anywhere?

The Liberal Democrats have been in the local press talking up their chances. I guess they have to. I think an honest assessment of their prospects leaves little cause for optimism from them, though. I have heard some predict a total whitewash for them – I do not think this very likely. Some are talking of a gain in West Leigh – possible, but dependent on what is happening to Conservative support, and what UKIP is doing, as much as it has anything to do with the Lib Dem campaign.

It is interesting to consider that Lib Dem incumbents, Westborough and Cllr Paul Collins aside, are under pressure from their national coalition partners. It could easily be a case of who is least unpopular in places like Leigh, Blenheim Park, St Laurence and Prittlewell – Clegg or Cameron? It may not be fair that national politics play such a big role in local elections, but it is the way it is.

The Conservatives are set for a disaster on May 22nd. Remember that in every national election they have contested, every single one, they have either won or been second. Third place awaits them, unless a remarkable improvement in fortunes comes their way in the next five weeks, in the European elections. Quite what this means for the local elections in Southend-on-Sea remains to be seen, but you can easily envisage some very nervous Tories who are seeking re-election.

If you want the EU to change then you will have to look like you really want to be involved

ToriesEUThe Conservatives consistently sit on the peripheries of Europe, thus minimising their input. To have any real prospect of influencing the EU one has to be engaged.

This is the East of England Conservative leaflet for the European elections, which fall on May 22nd (the same day as the local elections). There are currently three Tory MEPs representing our region, a number that is bound to shrink.

The Conservative message seems to play on stranger danger, thus they speak about a referendum, immigration, the single currency, national borders, etc. It is a very negative read, and not one that would leave anyone believing that “only the Conservatives can deliver real change in Europe”.

There are a number of ways that the European Union can be improved, but I think only a positive, encouraging and involved presence will truly succeed. The Tories consistent desire to be neither fully with the project nor completely out has never been satisfactory. They are much like someone stuck in a revolving door – neither truly in or out. This has led to much of their problems over the last twenty years.

There is one sentence in this leaflet that I can endorse:

UKIP are neither credible nor competent and they can’t deliver for Europe.

Unfortunately, until the Conservative Party really commits itself to the EU they will struggle to deliver too.

Plus ça change

As the ink dries on Martin Terry’s letter of resignation, one is left with a few questions.

I guess the most immediate is who now leads the Independent Group? Whoever takes over may only be keeping the seat warm until Martin’s expected reincarnation as a Thorpe councillor, but who knows? Whoever takes on the role may grow to enjoy the trappings of being a Leader of a party in all but name.

What happens if Cllr Kaye defies electoral gravity and survives? Admittedly a remote prospect but nonetheless possible.

Longer term one cannot help but see this as the beginning of the end of Westborough’s flirtation with Independents. Cllr Velmurugan remains, but his term ends in 2016. My reading of Westborough is that his stock is at an all-time low, and his prospects for re-election are diminishing with every expression of devotion to Cllr Holdcroft and his administration.

When was the last time Southend-on-Sea saw two council by-elections in one year? I struggle to put a date on the last by-election before this year (which was in West Shoebury if my memory is correct), so rare are they. Two in a year may be unique.

There is one full council to come, plus mayor-making (annual council), before May 22nd. Martin’s departure may only be a minor ripple in the grand scheme of things. It is a gamble though, and whatever happens we will see a new Leader of a Group that to date has only ever been led by Martin. This, in itself, may be a portent of bigger and more permanent change in the council. May 22nd really will see the most fascinating set of elections in a long time.

St Luke’s Independent Newsletter Winter 2013

StLukesIndieIt seems that the St Luke’s Independent councillors cannot see the irony in claiming to be both independent and non-political, and yet boast of belonging to the “largest opposition Group”. Aside from the fact that they are joint largest (the Liberal Democrat group also has nine members), there is a contradiction in being both independent and in a group. However, I guess that having been blind to this illogical stance thus far they are not about to concede the point.

This leaflet introduces Caroline Endersby, who hopes to complete a hat-trick for the Independents in this ward. She will have to defeat Cllr Sally Carr, a Conservative who is surely staring at third place (if not worse), and Gray Sergeant. Gray is Labour’s youthful aspirant who is working hardest to achieve victory here (and see this once safe Labour seat have socialist representation again).

The St Luke’s Independents cannot help themselves when it comes to counting their chickens whilst still they remain eggs. They speak of running the town after the May elections, which may come to pass, but it is a long way from being a sure thing. There is, in my experience, much disappointment with the performance of many in the Independent Group amongst voters. Reality may not match Independent expectations. However, Conservative losses seem almost inevitable, and this correspondent hopes that Labour will be the biggest winner.

I note that (again) Independents are piggy-backing off my campaigning – this time on the issue of empty homes in the borough. I welcome them following my lead, and at some point I may even be given credit for highlighting this issue.

The back of the leaflet is entitled ‘local community businesses’ – I am not sure what a community business is, as compared to any other type of business. It is not clear, either, whether this is paid-for advertisement or if these have been specially selected (and if so, why these and not others). The problem with this sort of advertising is that whilst it doubtless pleases those included, I cannot imagine those ignored are especially delighted.

The leaflet begins with a boast about their “efficient scrutiny of Cabinet decisions”. Since scrutiny committees meetings are open to the public I heartily recommend St Luke’s residents to come and see just how efficient Cllrs Ayling and Van Looy are at scrutinising.

An Independent View – the Thorpe contradiction

ThorpeIndependentI have stated it many times, and it looks like I will have to keep on stating it: the Independent Group in Southend-on-Sea like to complain about party politics, but in many ways they behave like a party themselves.

Take Cllr Martin Terry’s decision to abscond from Westborough before his term is up and attempt to become the third Independent in Thorpe. He could have waited until 2015 when his term in Westborough expires, but oh know – that would have meant having to challenge an Independent councillor. To not challenge indicates a level of cooperation that surely is at variance with the supposed independent ethos.

This leaflet seems to suggest that Mr Terry is already part of the Thorpe team (again, how can you be both in a team and independent?) I wonder what Westborough residents must think, condemned to less representation in order that Martin can secure that Thorpe slot.

An independent view? Hardly. Independent and part of a trio? A contradiction. Endorsed by Cllrs Stafford and Woodley! As much evidence as you need that this is more misinformation.

Scrap undemocratic SKIPP

The mechanics of administration, does it matter? To some it is a key issue. In my experience the vast majority of voters really do not care. I find this true with electoral reform, a big issue for me – yet failing to excite voters very much at all.

Saxon King in Priory Park, to give SKIPP their full title (and shouldn’t they be called PPIPP nowadays?) make great play of their desire to ‘scrap the cabinet’. This is a reference to the eight senior members of the administration in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea. They claim it is undemocratic. Curious.

I am ambivalent about having a Cabinet. I am not minded to see its future as a priority, not when we have far greater issues to deal with. Any discussion about reorganisation can wait as far as I am concerned. If, and it is a big if, Labour form part of the administration any time soon then I would hope that we would look to address the inequalities in the town before indulging in such vanities.

I must say, there is more than a hint of hypocrisy with SKIPP’s claims. Mark Sharp, aspirant councillor for Milton, turned up at one meeting claiming to be a member of the Milton Ward Community Group. Aside from the fact that this group is now defunct, was he elected into this role? It remains an unanswered question, which is an answer in itself.

Irony of ironies, SKIPP too is undemocratic. No annual general meetings, no minutes, no elections, just self-appointed individuals. Set up in 2008 (according to their website), there are four of them. Their claim that they were set up by “…by concerned residents of Southend-on-Sea” may be true, but they neglect to point out that this represents just 0.002% of the borough’s population.

Now, I understand how pressure groups work, I have been in a few myself. I understand that they can be quite small, and I do not have issue with this either. I also share some of SKIPP’s values (and have happily supported them, and donated). I do object to them attempting to defeat a Labour candidate – but that is democracy. But where all this unravels is that in every organisation I have been a member of there is accountability. If SKIPP cherish democracy so much then I suggest they take a look in the mirror first.

Campaigning for Shoebury from Milton

MSharpleafletWith so many real issues to deal with I can confirm that replacing the Cabinet system in Southend-on-Sea is not a priority for me. This would be an exercise in navel gazing at a time when many are suffering hardship because of the austerity measures and the consequential cuts.

Mark Sharp’s leaflet does not mention those in desperate need. It does not mention the threats to many essential services, not does it address the challenges facing those residing in the centre of Southend-on-Sea.

This leaflet is being distributed with the infamous Conservatives-at-Sea leaflet, which rather puts paid to his claim of being ‘a true independent’. He is endorsing the ‘narrow interests’ of the Independent Group.

When Mark claims that ‘he passionately believes that the job of a local councillor is to stand up for the people of Southend’ does this include those who want a Cliffs Museum, who like the Cabinet system, who want the sea wall built on Shoebury Common? It is a cheap and empty claim. I will fight for anyone in Milton, but I also show leadership. This means taking a stand, and not pretending that you can please all of the people all of the time.

Mark may not be from the right or the left, but he is capable of uttering platitudes.

Scotland

At the tail-end of the coming summer the Scots will vote in a referendum that will have a momentous impact on their politics. Depending on the outcome it could also affect politics in the rest of the United Kingdom too.

Should Scotland be an independent country? This is the question to be asked of voters in Scotland. In some ways, of course, Scotland already has an independent existence – in sport for instance. But the independence being questioned strikes at the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and a yes vote will make this country disappear. Great Britain is the name of the largest island in this north European archipelago – we would become the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The flag would change too, and much beside.

This proposed divorce is a one-sided affair – the rest of the UK does not get asked whether they wish the current union to remain. Not all of the Scots get asked either – those resident, and on the electoral roll, north of the border are voting; Scots resident in the rest of the UK will have no say.

Some Tories are wishing for a yes vote in the belief that this will end Labour’s chances of winning another General Election. Aside from the wrong maths, this argument somewhat admits to their failure north of Watford Gap.

In 2003 I worked in West Lothian; a three month stint with BskyB. It was a weekly commute, by aeroplane except for the one occasion when I chose to drive. I like Scotland, and the Scots, and this has nothing to do with their politics. I also worked for more than two years in Newcastle upon Tyne. Once or twice I forayed across the border when there. What is blindingly obvious is that you move from England to Scotland nothing changes – at least when you cross Offa’s Dyke you start to see bi-lingual signs. Yes, the Scots have a distinct accent, but even this is a gradual change. A southerner on the Tyne and Wear Metro will struggle to understand some of the locals every bit as much as when strolling down Princes Street.

Whether driving or flying one does get a sense that this small island of ours, whilst full of contrasts, is also a singular place. English, Scots and Welsh are much alike, and a lot of DNA is shared. (I can claim Welsh and Irish ancestry – like many English, and some in my family also have a great deal of Scots in them). This separation, if it comes to that, will not rent asunder two entirely different races.

I also think that in a world increasingly dominated by economic giants, small getting smaller is not the way to go. Whilst the days of empire are comparatively recent, they are equally behind us. The UK may sit at number seven in a list of the biggest economies, but others are catching up. Making us deliberately smaller will bring our relegation closer.

Those Scots who want the divorce may not like being run by Old Etonians (and I have sympathy for that), but what happens if they get a Scots Parliament run by people they like not – is it Orkney independence next?

Many of the world’s nations have borders that arbitrary. The United Kingdom, certainly that bit that contains England and Scotland, has natural barriers – this island race is bounded by the sea. It is a border that makes sense. The line linking the River Tweed and the Solway Firth is entirely artificial.

I hope the polls are right, and that this referendum receives a huge no vote.

Full council, the view from my chair

Last night’s budget debate had its moments. I have already written about the leader, Cllr Holdcroft, and his confessing to having sold a scrutiny chair to Cllr Woodley a couple of years ago in exchange for his support of the budget. I should add that Ron Woodley strenuously denies this.

Cllr Nigel Holdcroft was rather self-satisfied, it appeared to me, in his opening and closing speeches. He will feel pleased that he has again cheated defeat in the chamber. As he pointed out, the arithmetic could have meant Tory defeat, yet despite the huffing and puffing by the Independent Group enough of them voted with the Tories to secure victory for Nigel.

In the end the Tories won a comfortable 29 to 19 votes, with one abstention. All of the Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors opposed the budget. The Independent councillors were split. Cllr Anne Chalk, the sole Independent to oppose the budget last year, voted for it this year. Cllr Velmurugan spoke against the budget, said he would oppose it, and then voted for it. (In the break after the budget debate he decided to berate me whilst I was in conversation about an unrelated matter with a Southend Echo reporter. He repeatedly called me a liar – what I was supposed to have lied about is beyond me, but his contribution to the budget debate can be viewed online. It will be noted that he concludes with “I will not vote for this budget”.)

For the record here is a list of those who spoke in the budget debate: Holdcroft, Longley, Terry, Gilbert, Flewitt, Ware-Lane, Norman, Borton, Morgan, Anne Jones, Lamb, McMahon, Courtenay, Aylen, Woodley, Wexham, Holland, Velmurugan, David Garston, Holdcroft.

Cllr Longley was opposed to the loss of jobs. Cllr Terry talked about debt (£63million when this administration took over, £271million today). Cllr Flewitt moaned about people being political. My speech is reproduced elsewhere in this blog. Cllr Borton spoke of attacks on the poor. Tory Leader-in-waiting, Cllr John Lamb, referred to a Lib Dem/Conservative government – clearly attempting to shift blame.

At the start of the meeting I asked a question: When is the likely start date for the local Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)?

The reply was April 2015. My supplementary concerned any potential gap between the ending of Section 106 agreements and the start of the CIL – I was assured there would be no gap, although the answer was a little indecisive. I will chase up with officers.

I spoke about the Counter Fraud Update Report; this item introduces the concept of Council Cops. I also spoke about Hackney Carriage Fares. I had also submitted a motion about Fixed Odds Betting terminals (seconded by Cllr Anne Jones), and this will be discussed at Cabinet.

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