Voting day is almost upon us, and the date to remember for the local elections across England is 22nd May. In Southend-on-Sea, there is everything to play for. For the first time in many years, control of the council hangs in the balance. In 2014, your vote counts more than ever to shape the future direction of the town. The main parties pitching their platforms are the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Independents, UKIP, and of course Labour.
So what are the Liberal Democrats offering the voters of Southend in 2014?
This is another difficult one. Like the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats in Southend are a disparate, disunified bunch lacking much of anything that can be described as local party policy. This is, I reason, slightly more acceptable from the Lib Dems than the Tories.
The Tories have been the dominant force in Southend local politics since the year dot. On the other hand the Lib Dems were, until recently, the go-to party of protest. Now I’m not sure what they are…
Spoiling for a defeat, is my guess, despite managing to field a full slate of candidates. The few Lib Dem councillors on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council have clung on rather well, considering that their MPs in Parliament have enabled the Conservatives to enact the sort of measures that those who were persuaded to vote for them wanted to avoid.
So back to the question: what would a Lib Dem vote deliver you? Aside from images of councillors and would-be councillors pointing at potholes, fly-tippings, whatever (I get that this is important, but why all the pointing? Labour’s Julian Ware-Lane makes similar blog posts without feeling the need to point incessantly). Aside from that, I suspect that a vote for the Lib Dems will deliver you the Tories.
Permit me to explain. I anticipate that the election will see the Conservatives lose their majority on the council. So if they are to hold onto control of Southend, they will need to strike a deal. I can’t see any circumstances in which Labour councillors would prop up a Tory administration. Even discounting the Independent Party Group pact with UKIP, I don’t think they would be a viable partner. But the Lib Dems?
Two things come to mind.
- The Lib Dems could have helped remove the Tories from power
last year[As Julian correctly points out below, this was actually two years ago]. Instead, they didn’t even try, and kept the Tories in control through inaction. Literally — they abstained and one of their number went on holiday rather than to the crucial vote. And thus we have had another yeartwo years of mismanagement and stagnation.
- The Lib Dems backed the Tories in dismantling the borough’s library system, most notably throwing Westcliff library on the mercy of volunteers, and no doubt making it much easier to justify closing in future.
Not all of them backed the Tories against the library system, mind. Paul Collins in Westborough voted against the proposals, but more of his colleagues were bought off by a bung to Leigh library, and sold him up the river. Which is the point. [I have been asked to clarify that when I use the word “bung”, I do not mean that the Lib Dem councillors took any money themselves. To be perfectly clear, they accepted a deal whereby funding was retained for Leigh library, in exchange for screwing over everyone who uses Westcliff library. I hope that Southend Liberal Democrats are happy with this clarification]
Southend Lib Dems, like their Tory counterparts, have no borough-wide policy. Like the Tories, they have no manifesto, only a rag-tag collection of individual pledges and promises that they won’t be able to keep even if they are elected (and had they the chance to do so, one questions whether they would take it).
Whilst I hesitate to describe any vote as a waste (always, always, always use your vote), a vote for the Lib Dems in Southend is as close as you’re going to get. There won’t be a yellow spring in Southend in May; if you vote yellow, you will probably get blue. You’ll get more of the same.