My good friend Julian Ware-Lane blogged last week that Southend’s Conservatives had selected their leader and deputy for when current leader Nigel Holdcroft steps down at the elections in May.
There aren’t any surprises therein — except that I haven’t seen anything yet on the matter from those few Conservative councillors who actively blog — with current deputy John Lamb to replace Holdcroft, and Southchurch Councillor Anne Holland as the new deputy.
The significance really depends on the state of affairs after May. If the Conservatives cling on to control — they won’t hold their majority, but depending on which way the wind blows the Independents or Lib Dems may prop up a Tory administration — then this will be the new leader and deputy of Southend Borough Council.
Which makes it all the more interesting that, as Julian pointed out, Cllr Holland doesn’t actually live in the Borough of Southend.
Around the 2010 general election, there was an undercurrent of controversy surrounding Lord Ashcroft. Though he seems to have rehabilitated himself of late with some excellent and insightful polling work, at the time there was hot water over the amount of power and influence he had for someone who didn’t officially live in the country — a non-dom, someone not domiciled and paying tax in the UK.
When it comes to local government, there are certain requirements for someone to stand as a councillor. Under s79 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70), a person is eligible to stand for election to a local authority if:
“(a) on that day he is and thereafter he continues to be a local government elector for the area of the authority; or
(b) he has during the whole of the twelve months preceding that day occupied as owner or tenant any land or other premises in that area; or
(c) his principal or only place of work during that twelve months has been in that area; or
(d) he has during the whole of those twelve months resided in that area…“
These are eminently sensible provisions, in my mind. It ensures ties to the community, it mandates self-government of a community, and it adheres to what I consider a basic principle of the rule of law: that those who make the laws, should also be subject to them.
There is, however, an exception to these rules. It isn’t, of course, phrased as an exception. Parliament is sovereign, and save by its leave no other decisions are equal or higher.
The Electoral Commission publish guidance on who is eligible to stand for local election. At paragraph 1.14 it offers a little…clarification of s79(c) above:
“Councillors whose main or only job is being a councillor would qualify under this heading, provided that their offices are within the local authority area.“
So if someone were to be elected to a local authority, meeting the requirements in the Local Government Act 1972 (i.e. living within the borough), and then subsequently to move outside of the borough, they could use their existing status as councillor to stand for re-election. Once you’ve got your foot in the door…
This, I suspect, may be the situation with Cllr Holland. Her registered address (which I won’t publish here, but is freely available on the Southend Borough Council website) seems to be just outside of Southend, in Great Wakering, which falls under Rochford District Council and Essex County Council.
I’m sure Cllr Holland is (aside her unfortunate political affiliations) a perfectly upstanding representative for the people of Southchurch. But in her role, which will be doubly true if she becomes deputy leader of the council, she is responsible for the governance of public services, and the setting of council tax; decisions which she herself will not be subject to.
And that I find more than a little troubling for local democracy.