Well that lasted.
News broke on Friday that the leader of the Southend Independent definitely-not-a-party Group, Martin Terry, intends to resign his present council seat representing Westborough ward in order to fight for election to Thorpe ward in the May local elections.
This is not a surprise to anyone in the know. Martin Terry has been looking for a Thorpe-wards relocation for a while, and it seems like the final piece has fallen into place (permission, perhaps, from Thorpe councillor and one-man self-promotion engine Ron Woodley?).
One side effect, though, is that that it has at last broken any pretence that Southend’s independents are anything but a political party.
The reasoning behind Cllr Terry’s move has been analysed in a number of places already. Lib Dem activist Neil Monnery, who broke the story, said:
“Martin I think is a pretty smart man and he knew that defending his seat come 2015 in Westborough would not be easy, not because he isn’t a good councillor, I happen to think he’s relatively decent, but because for any independent it is hard to defend a seat on a General Election day when the turnout is extremely high.“
Which seems charitable. If Cllr Terry was confident of the quality of his representation and his party group’s populist statements, then what would he have to fear?
My friend, and Labour Councillor for Milton ward, Julian Ware-Lane said of Terry’s flight:
“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.“
And my 2014 West Shoebury opponent Conservative Tony Cox reckons:
“…firstly, his star is fading in Westborough and clearly wanting to cling onto power feels his best shot is to stand in Thorpe where there are currently two Independent Party councillors. The second reason is pure and simply to intimidate Alex Kaye who was elected as an Independent four years ago but left to re-join the Conservatives after, in her words, became ‘disillusioned’ with the Independent Party.“
It’s hard to argue with any part of that, really. Cllr Terry clearly feels time’s winged chariot hurrying near, and is running before he’s kicked out.
But what interests me is that he is running to Thorpe, which is as close as possible to an Independent safe ward. Less important to him than the residents of Westborough is his remaining a councillor, regardless of where.
The Independents have been a party all along, but this is an act of saving their leader. Rather than facing the ballot box with faith in the electorate, they are finding somewhere where the electorate might accept them. And this is the
party group which thinks it ought to be running the borough after May.
In Thorpe, Cllr Terry will be able to agitate against any flood defences (despite large parts of Somerset still being under water). He clearly believes that himself and his party have nothing to offer the people of Westborough, and they have no inclination even to try.
The core vote of the Independent Party is in the eastern wards of the borough, and faced with the turning tide of public opinion, they are consolidating around it. And come May, everything — the very future of Southend — is absolutely to play for.