We at Castle Dent (n.b. not an actual castle) had an interesting caller yesterday afternoon. Whilst the sun beat down on Southend, the doorbell rang, and I was the one to open the door.
And it opened onto a strange gentlemen, with a clipboard in hand, and a look I knew well. He introduced himself as the Conservative candidate for Victoria Ward. When he asked about my own politics, I was honest — a simple Google search would have told him the truth any how. It was a little different to how I would have canvassed someone on the doorstep; a lecture on the follies of François Hollande and the Parti Socialiste.
His name was Denis Garne, and less than half an hour later I learnt that he was a former councillor on Southend Borough Council. Representing the, erm, Labour Party.
I have never, I must admit, understood the temptation for those active in politics to switch sides. Perhaps it comes down to how I view membership of a political party. It’s not simply a club to help you up the ladder, but a statement of values and principles.
I am, for instance, not a Labour member because of any boost to myself that I feel membership can bestow upon me. It is, I would suggest, unlikely to make me MP for Southend (Rochford and – East, or West) any time in the immediate future. No, I am a member, an activist for the Labour Party because their principles and policies most closely resemble my own.
That doesn’t amount to agreement on every detail with every other member. But it does mean that the direction of the party is the direction I want to be travelling in.
There are a number of similar cases of defection in Southend. Independent
Party Group leader Martin Terry is a former Labour man — soon to be standing opposite Ron “selling his soul to the Tories” Woodley in Thorpe — as is Shoeburyness independent councillor Anne Chalk. Dr Vel, over in Westborough, has gone from Labour, to Independent Party Group, to his present Independent-minded Conservative — stealth Tory — nonsense. Meanwhile Thorpe councillor Alex Kaye went the other way, switching from the Independents to the Tories. Oh, and Rick Morgan left the Lib Dems to become an Independent/Liberal.
And, of course, there’s Conservative councillor for St Laurence Mark Flewitt, who — again — was a Labour member of long-standing.
And Denis? Well, he lost his seat in Kursall to Blaine Robin in 2008. And his resultant departure from the party was as apparently a result of internal disagreements about where he could stand for election. Which seems to be a common factor in a lot of these cases.
And this is the problem; so much of this smacks of crass opportunism. Changing your banner to whoever can serve you best at any given opportunity. It is not a sort of politics that I admire, or have much time for. If you sell your principles so cheaply, then what are you worth?
Still, I’m sure that Victoria Labour Councillor Margaret Borton will be relieved to hear that her Conservative (formerly Labour) opponent is intent on fighting an election against President François Hollande.