Thin skins in local government

martin terry

What a difference a few weeks make, eh?

Prior to the local elections this May, Southend Independent Party Group leader Martin Terry was one of the loudest voices shouting about the lack of scrutiny, and the undemocratic way in which the ruling Tories ran Southend. He wasn’t wrong, exactly, though arguably a little prone to hyperbole.

One would expect, then, Martin to be encouraging alternative points of view now that he sits at the cabinet table. He would surely welcome honest, forthright and democractic scrutiny of himself, as a part of a healthy local government.

Except, the new portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste and Transport seems to have developed a rather thin skin of late.

It all started, as so many of these things do, with a letter in the local paper. Not mine, this time, but one penned by my good friend and councillor for Milton, Julian Ware-Lane. Critical of the new administration’s tendency to over-announce policy wishlists as achieved aims — the Independent Party Group side of the administration; thus far I am proud to say that the Labour cabinet members have conducted themselves with rather more decorum.

Of announcements like the recent one by Martin Terry, reported by the Echo that the sea wall had been scrapped, Julian said:

This sort of decision will be taken by the 51 councillors who represent all within Southend, not by one excitable portfolio holder. I am minded to mention that those in the Independent Group who consider the cabinet system imperfect should remember a decision taken by one is even less democratic.

I am in the Administration too, and I am pleased with the reviews. However, I am concerned review outcomes are being pre-judged.

I have to say, I think what Julian said was very fair. I perhaps wouldn’t have described Martin as “drunk with power”, as I can understand that Martin is excited at the prospect of the Tories out of power — something we share — But I can see what Julian means.

I’m a little surprised, therefore, that Martin’s response was a full-throated attack on Julian in a full-page spread in the Echo:

Julian is part of the joint administration, but he is still on the learning curve as to whether he wants to be inside or outside the tent.

I don’t understand what Julian is doing. He is causing a lot of upset and a lot of people are raising their eyebrows at his approach.

I am presuming the referred to raised eyebrows belong to one Martin Terry.

I support the joint administration, and the policies set out in the agreement. That does not mean I will always agree with how the Independent Party Group or Liberal Democrats conduct themselves. I am sure the same will be true of their own backbenchers in relation to Labour. So it bears remembering that Julian’s disagreement wasn’t in relation to policy, but rather how Martin chose to announce it.

Whilst I am unsure that any of this does represent, as the Echo claimed “[the] Council alliance [beginning] to crack”, as I am unsure that Julian’s letter was indeed “incendiary”. But it seems to have struck a nerve with Martin. I am surprised that he is so sensitive to what was a pretty throwaway piece of criticism. In my opinion, this sort of rounded scrutiny is exactly what Southend was missing under the Tories, and should be welcomed back into our political discourse. So it will be interesting to see how Martin copes when he does actually does have something to announce.


  1. I followed this in the Echo with interest. The new coalition council should allow for greater discussion and scrutiny of decisions. I only hope this isn’t a sign of things to come and the opportunity for change isn’t wasted. I would have thought none of the three groups want to find us back under a Conservative administration next year.


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