Can the Southend Independent Party hold it together?


southend civic centre

All political parties are coalitions; people bound together all with slightly different worldviews, but whose ideals are similar enough that they can stand beneath the same banner. That’s true of Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, and UKIP (witness the tension between the “little Englanders” and new defectee Douglas Carswell).

So the joint administration which has run Southend since the start of June is a coalition twice over; a coalition of three coalitions. That it has held together even this long is a surprise to some, but on the part of Labour and the Lib Dems that has to be down to party ties and the clear ideals for which they stand (and, in the case of the Lib Dems, oblivion if they do, oblivion if they don’t).

It says a lot, then, that the most fractious element of the joint administration is the one lacking those party ties — which, actually, is something they wear as a perverse badge of honour. If the joint administration does fall apart, then I am convinced it will be because of the Independent element.

It is difficult to ascribe a single motive to those councillors who sit in Martin Terry’s rabble. It fundamentally boils down to ego, I am sure. Several were members of other parties before finding success as Independents, clearly seeing that the principles they professed to hold were keeping them from office and choosing to abandon them like an empty crisp packet.

(Interestingly, this isn’t true only of the independents. Tory loudmouth councillor Mark Flewitt’s political journey in Southend has seen him go from Labour to Conservative via independent, and he had previously sat as a Labour councillor in Havering)

Consequently, what you have is a group made up of people with oversized egos, rarely able to see beyond the boundaries of their ward or the next election, and blessed with an uncanny inability to play well with others. It’s no surprise that, with only three executive portfolios allocated to a group of thirteen such prima donnas some are left disappointed and cantankerous.

Martin Terry is ostensibly leader, but the real power is of course Ron Woodley. It was Ron’s permission that Martin needed to scurry over to Thorpe in May before his electorate unseated him in Westborough, and Ron runs a pretty tight little fiefdom over in Thorpe. There is also something of a hub in St Luke’s, where “local businessman” Paul van Looy sits along with a former Lib Dem and a mute.

The main area of Indie discontent is over in Shoeburyness, though. Mike Asssenheim is one of the three councillors, and sits in the cabinet. He is at least competent. The other two seats are presently held by Anne Chalk and her uninspiring protégé Nick Ward.

Anne is not pleased with Ron, Martin and Mike. The source of her displeasure isn’t hard to find (even on this very blog), but she has been grumbling in the background pretty much since the joint administration took power, bubbling over with foolish ideas dressed up as good governance.

Anne is up for re-election this year, and after the recent string of results (and the Conservatives’ declining prospects in the town) you would think that she was in with a very good shout. But the general election will bring out the political party voters more strongly than in years gone by. And she has well and truly blotted her copy book with her not-party colleagues.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the return of council meetings after the summer break sees some theatrics from Anne, as she attempts to define herself against her fellow “independents”, and pull of the trick of being both in opposition and in power.

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