The above photo depicts Mike Assenheim, councillor for Shoeburyness and portfolio holder for Regulatory Service, outside Shoeburyness High School alongside former councillor for Shoeburyness Roger Hadley. Nothing innately interesting there, but Mike sits with the Independent Party Group and Roger Hadley a Conservative. And this picture seems to be causing a little trouble.
In the May elections, Roger was beaten rather decisively by Independent Party Group candidate Nick Ward. This was a bit of a shame, not because Roger was a brilliant councillor — he wasn’t — but because his replacement is a competence-vacuum in the shape of a man. Still, Roger was punished by the voters for slavishly following his party line and not listening to Shoeburyness residents. You can’t really argue with that.
But what is interesting here is the reaction of the third Shoeburyness councillor Anne Chalk (Independent) — who seems so embittered of her defeated foe that she is laying into Mike, ostensibly her friend.
Anne’s blog is an odd affair. It’s usually literate, but rarely makes a great deal of sense. It is also infrequently updated. On Friday she blogged about the above photo, characterising it as a “chummy relationship”, and reassurring residents that “Nick Ward and myself are working hard to expel Tories like Roger and give the residents of Shoebury a true voice on the council.”
The blog, mysteriously, has since disappeared.
Two points occur. Firstly, where has it gone? Has Anne changed her mind? If she has, then why not a new blog to explain her thinking. Or perhaps she was pressured to take it down. Mike is, relatively, high up in the Independent Party Group. Except, the Independents’ big (only) selling point is their lack of a whip. They aren’t, they misleadingly insist, a party and don’t make their councillors obey a party line. Or perhaps they do.
Secondly, this exemplifies the problem with the Independents as a political choice. Anne hates Roger Hadley. She would damn her own allies before giving him, even in defeat, anything at all. In her deleted blog she laid out that she and Nick Ward would never work with the Tories.
That is not how local government works. Anne frequently insists that tribal party politics has no place in local government, but she is behaving more tribally here than any group on the council. A good councillor will work with whoever they have to in order to get the best for their voters and their town. Anne has been very clear that she won’t work with anyone under Tory colours.
She doesn’t even broach any valid criticism of Roger, despite there being avenues wide open. The story this photo was attached to was Roger complaining about Shoeburyness High School cutting an community outreach programme. As I highlighted in a letter to the Echo, the programme is being cut because of budget cuts by the, err, Conservative Party. And councillors can’t do anything about it because their control over the school has been ended by the academies programme pushed by, er, the Conservative Party.
And as I said above, in office Roger studiously followed and defended his party’s line — only to whinge when no longer on the council.
Roger has no leg to stand on here, but neither does Anne; her personal and tribal vendetta matters more to her than getting the best for Shoebury and Southend. If she wants to give “Shoebury residents a voice on the council” she should be looking to work with other parties. And it’s not like she hasn’t shown a propensity to do so before, when it suits her: she, it is rumoured, was quite willing to support Conservative John Lamb for council leader over Ron Woodley, in exchange for her being given a seat on the cabinet.