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.

Solicitation in Thorpe

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photo 3I have objected and opposed quite a number of planning applications. I have never solicited support; I have left it to others to make up their minds about each one. I do advertise significant planning applications on this blog – to inform, and allow those so inclined to pass their comments onto the relevant council officers.

I am always happy to offer advice, and this usually begins with “use your own words”. Mass produced and identical objections lose something, in my opinion. That being said, I would write words for those genuinely unable to frame them for themselves – but this would happen after being approached.

I am not entirely sure whether the approach adopted by Ron Woodley (on behalf of BERA), and shown here, is entirely within the rules – although I admit that this is not my area of expertise. There is an interesting choice of words too. “The Council” includes Ron; although I confess to doing similar I am always keen to stress that my ire is always directed at the Conservative administration, and not the officers who serve them.

I think it fine to advertise upcoming planning applications, and to set out how to pass comment. I have no real issue with stating your objections either. Somehow, though, this does not feel right. I guess the fine line comes somewhere between pointing out that an application has been made and putting words into the mouths of residents.

Meanwhile, over in Shoeburyness

Cllr Tony Cox makes a couple of assumptions in his post Trouble On Sea? Whilst what he writes may be true, equally it could be speculative and wide of the mark.

At the moment the two big guns in the Independent Group are indeed BERA members. Whether this equates to BERA running the Group I am unconvinced. I rather liken running that group to herding cats. However, I cannot dispute that the Group’s centre of gravity is in BERA, and if Martin Terry succeeds in Thorpe ward in May this becomes even truer.

Tony claims that the letter, in the name of her husband, is actually penned by Anne Chalk. I know Bernard quite well, and I know he is capable of independent thought. Unless Tony has a spy camera in the Chalk household this is at best a guess. As to civil war in the Independent Group – a clash of egos is bound to happen in a group that has ego as its principle raison d’etre.

Tony mentions Cllr Velmurugan, who may be a true Independent but he is also listed in the council’s internal email directory as a Conservative member!

I cannot help but be curious as to the mention of SKIPP and the infamous ‘Conservative At Sea’ leaflets. Does this confirm their candidate in Milton as being part of the party-that-is-not-a-party?

Coming home to roost

So there we have it, Chicken-run Terry thinks that his best chances of remaining a councillor lie in an escape from Westborough to the comfort of Thorpe ward. This somewhat underlines a few points that I have made over the years.

Martin obviously cares more about his status than the residents of Westborough. He may think that his work there has been somewhat undermined by Cllr Velmurugan, but he must admit to being at least partly at fault. It is also on his watch that the warring amongst the residents’ groups has occurred.

Martin, a Thorpe resident who in reality had little affinity with Westborough, has exposed his shallow pretensions. He is moving to avoid an almost inevitable 2015 defeat, and thus has shown that the accoutrements of office subsume any real desire to fight for Westborough. Moving after defeat is one thing, moving to avoid defeat is political cowardice.

His move to Thorpe further undermines claims that his merry band is not a party. The Thorpe trio pictured in today’s local newspaper is a giveaway – you are either independent or part of a team. What irks is that Cllr Terry wants to have it both ways.

What is really quite interesting is that we are seeing a picture developing where the Independents are gradually replacing the Tories in the east of the borough, whilst becoming shrinking band in the West. I think Cllr Velmurugan (if he stands again) will lose his Westborough seat in 2016, leaving Cllr Aylen somewhat isolated over in Belfairs.

What will Thorpe voters make of all this? I expect Martin will secure a comfortable victory in May, and this once super-safe Conservative ward continues to show what complacency leads to.

It does make you wonder whether a decent UKIP campaign here in 2015 will see the under-performing James Duddridge removed from the green benches, especially if the Tories fail to hold a single ward this year in his constituency. A local election wipe-out was once unthinkable, whereas now it is a distinct possibility.

Cllr Ayling, counting chickens

Councillor Brian Ayling (Independent, St Luke’s) in claiming that his Group will be running the town after this May’s elections not only jumps the gun somewhat, but is clearly ignorant of the arithmetic that is needed to see this happen.

Currently, the Independent Group (not a party, but still in possession of shared literature, website, a leader with an allowance, etc.) have nine councillors. To run the town one requires a minimum of twenty-six (thus giving a majority of one in the chamber). Is Cllr Ayling seriously claiming that is group, and their partners in the Faustian pact (UKIP), will win all seventeen wards in May? Of course it is possible (provided they find enough candidates), but it does stretch credibility.

I am curious how an unwhipped loose alliance of independent people can even claim they all their members will want this? After all, if they are really independently minded then it cannot be taken for granted how they will act. Surely collective action is a denial of their stated ethos?

I also wonder what the electorate, clearly of a mind in Southend to oust the Tories, would think of a Group who are so closely aligned with a party (in UKIP) who are to the right of the Conservative Party? It is not change if you merely replace one set of Tories with another.

I also note that Brian takes exception to my writing the truth about his actions on the council. Rather than whingeing about my attempts to shine a light on his voting habits, he should be apologising to the residents of St Luke’s who he has so badly let down.

If you have no whip your promises mean nothing

The Independent Group attempts to make a virtue out of having no whip whereas I see it as a vice. UKIP are now following suit, unsurprising I guess that they should ape their buddies. Even the local Conservatives claim they are without a whip.

Labour has a whip, and this year that role falls to me. So far we have not used the whip – any vote where we all go the same way merely shows that on many issues we think alike. Of course, we have informal discussions where we tentatively agree a line, and sometimes this is in the chamber after hearing the debate. We call ourselves comrades because it actually means something to us. We nearly had a whipped vote, until a U-turn by the administration made a vote unnecessary.

Whipping ensures a couple of things. Firstly it guarantees that any manifesto promises are adhered to. It also means that democratically arrived at decisions made in Group meetings are followed through. It also gives our Group strength; seeing the Independents all over the place on some issues is seen by us as a weakness. It is not unknown for them to cancel each other out, effectively making their votes wasted.

Whipping the Independents may be akin to herding cats, and perhaps that is why they have decided against it. In a group where there are so many egos on display getting them to cooperate with each other is a step too far. They advertise this as a bonus, and it would seem that many voters agree. But, it also means that you do not know what you are getting when you elect them.

When Cllr Velmurugan declares his love for the Tories (after the votes have been counted) we should not be surprised. When Cllrs Stafford and Woodley have a memorandum of understanding with the Tories we should not be surprised. When Cllr Kaye joins the Tories from the Independents we should not be surprised. Whether this is what those who elected them expected is another matter; I suspect most will be rueing that particular choice.

And so to election promises. These are mere ephemera if they cannot guarantee the support of those elected because of them. This is what no whipping really means: I can make promises, you can elect me on those promises, but no-one is going to ensure I stick to those promises, and my colleagues in any case are free to ignore me and them anyway. They may as well state on their literature “vote for me and I will make it up as I go along”.

“You did not want your library closed? Sorry, but me and my colleagues voted in different ways”. “I opposed the budget, but some of my colleagues supported it, and others abstained. This is what you voted for, so I thought you would be pleased.”

Discipline, cohesiveness, teamwork, and being an effective and strong voice. This is what whipping delivers. If you want a strong and effective group running the town then you will have to figure out how that is achieved. You could vote for someone who disdains party discipline, but don’t wave their literature in their faces when they vote – they are answerable only to their own sense of self-importance.

Lurching to the right

Cllr Ron Woodley announces he is the only true Conservative in the borough. Cllr Marimuthu Velmurugan announces himself as Conservatively minded. The Independent Group announce an agreement/understanding/pact with UKIP.

One thing is abundantly clear is that the Independents in Southend-on-Sea are lurching to the right. The Southend Echo today has an article, which admittedly is partly speculative, about a concord between Independent Group and UKIP for next May’s local elections. It states things which hardly a secret – the Independent Group in the borough and UKIP are very close, nay allies.

UKIP are to the right of the Conservative Party. Their manifesto could have been cobbled together from the worst headlines found in the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Nigel Farrage has stated that his party will be running on an anti-immigration ticket in the European elections in May.

I cannot predict what will happen in the council chamber after the elections, although some sort of coalition is likely. It will be a black day for politics in Southend if UKIP get any councillors, let alone if they find themselves as part of a rainbow coalition running the town.

One or two in the Independent Group would have once described themselves as socialists. It defies my understanding how they can attach themselves to a party that has a large vein of xenophobia, anti-feminism and homophobia running through it. UKIP are against political correctness, human rights and the welfare state, favour discriminatory education policies and would sink Britain’s economic wellbeing by leaving the EU. They are also largely a party of climate change deniers, and their flag-waving little-Englander pretentions are in defiance of a history that shows Britain is at its best when it is outward looking and internationalist in approach.

The last thing my town needs is to ditch the Tories only to find them replaced with a more extreme version of the Conservative Party.

Chalked up for the monkeys

Chalk123Is there discord in the Independent camp? Have Cllrs Assenheim and Chalk fallen out? I ask because Cllr Anne Chalk now refers to her Shoeburyness colleague as the fourth wise monkey.

She has re-worded her original post – where she now has “And yes the one on the right is covering himself up!” – it originally stated: “And if you didn’t notice straight away, yes the one on the far right is covering his genitals!” Not sure if the re-wording is an improvement or not.

The one “on the far right” is Cllr Mike Assenheim.

UKIP in retreat, or lining up for a pact?

The United Kingdom Independence Party has announced that it is to target six seats in next year’s Southend-on-Sea Borough Council elections. This looks like a retreat to me – they had promised to target all seventeen wards.

I confess to some surprise. Next year’s local elections coincide with the European Parliamentary elections and one would have thought that they would be looking to maximise their vote share in the East of England.

I wonder whether the “anti-immigration party” has a pact with the local Independent Group? It has had an accord in the past, and this might explain why are avoiding my ward amongst others.

Aside from wondering what relevance an anti-EU and anti-immigration party has for the Borough Council (which has no say on these national issues) I also wonder whether the Independent Group now subscribes to the Right-wing agenda espoused by their Euro-sceptic chums.

Less of a gauntlet, more like a chicken-run

Yesterday’s Southend Echo carried a story about the Independent Group Leader, Cllr Martin Terry, who is suggesting that was-Independent-now-Conservative Cllr Alex Kaye should stand down, forcing a by-election. In this story Cllr Terry indicated “he was willing to give up his safe seat in Westborough to contest a by-election.”

I have privately wondered whether Cllr Terry, whose grip on Westborough is far from safe (fragile, even), would jump ship to Thorpe ward, the ward he actually lives in. He faces a difficult re-election in 2015, one that will be fought at the same time as the General Election.

If Cllr Kaye does not step down she will be up for re-election next year. Will Cllr Terry challenge her then? If so, there will be two vacancies that will need filling in Westborough (Cllr Paul Collins seeks re-election there in 2014).

Whenever Martin Terry fights his next election I hope his agent does better than the rather slipshod job that he did in Westborough last year.

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