Whips and chains

southend civic centre

My apologies to anyone whose non-specific Googling has brought them to this page. This blog is, of course, about political whipping. Which is less kinky than what most of you clicked the link for. Sorry.

For the uninitiated, a party whip is responsible for keeping the party in line, and making sure that all of the representatives of that party follow the line set by the leadership. It’s a fairly thankless task, but it’s the cornerstone of stable governance under the political party system.

And, on Southend Borough Council, the Independent Party Group make a point of not using a whip. So, for that matter, do UKIP. They flaunt it on their campaign literature as some sort of badge of honour. If only it were that straightforward.

My good friend, and stalwart of the local political blogosphere (though I’m not sure how he’d feel about that description…) Julian Ware-Lane wrote about this in the lead-up to the West Leigh by-election. I completely agree with him when he says:

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.

With both the Independents and UKIP, there is a sense of rebellion, of the anti-politics, which drives their hostility to party cohesion. They are the other, the anti-establishment figure in whom the protest vote can be vested. Just look at the 418 voters who lumped for the UKIP candidate in West Leigh.

On UKIP’s side, I’m afraid this is based on the misconception that they are relevant. A controversial statement, perhaps, but I refer to you my previous predictions for Southend’s political future; I believe that UKIP could win one seat, at the very most, in May. And if they do, then being whip-free is irrelevant. If Mr Moyies is elected, and he goes against his “party line” as set by his campaign promises, that won’t make him “independent”; it will make him a liar.

For the Independents, it’s a different sort of delusion; that they are not a party. It is, actually, the only plank left of the argument which they can stand on. If they don’t whip, they can’t be a party, surely? Never mind that they share campaign literature, never mind that they have a leader, as long as they claim to be independent then they can take the moral high ground.

The sad truth is that, if they have no means to ensure it, any promises they make to the electorate are meaningless.

It’s a problem. It’s set to be more of a problem if — as most expect — the results in May see a hung council. In such an event, there will have to be negotiations to see who can form a stable leadership. Because that is what will be needed. But whilst the Lib Dems, the Tories, and Labour will have the party infrastructure to see that any agreement  functions, the Independents are actively flaunting that they don’t.

They would put their own opportunism — the ability to u-turn on the spot — above the interests of Southend-on-Sea and its residents. Which, to this blogger’s mind, makes them thoroughly unfit to hold office.

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