There are always rumours floating around about declining party membership numbers within the Southend Conservative associations, with some estimates I’ve heard suggesting that they have less than 100 members. That might be a severe figure, but it’s illustrative of the problem; declining membership, and what is left growing demographically older.
This is, I strongly suspect, a big contributor to the free-fall decline which Conservative fortunes are experiencing in Southend-on-Sea at the moment. It’s far from the only factor — or even the biggest; not listening to residents, for example — but it hampers their ability to campaign.
But it’s something else when they seem to be drafting in election candidates from outside the borough. Not only that, but failed former-councillors from neighbouring authorities.
This evening, James Cottis tweeted the following:
For a little background, James Cottis was, until May, a Conservative councillor on Rochford District Council. He actually lost his seat, to Labour’s Jerry Gibson. Now, it seems he’s moved his sights from Rochford to Southend, being selected to contest a seat for Southend Tories last night.
James still lives, as far as I can tell, in Rochford. He is a councillor on Rochford Parish Council. His website is “under construction“, but as recently as May it had a prominent front page claiming “For me Rochford is not only home, it is in my blood”. Presumably this will soon be back up, with “Southend” in place of “Rochford”.
I have blogged before about the “non-doms” sitting on Southend Borough Council under Conservative colours, including the Conservative group deputy leader. Bizarrely, it is legal for a councillor not to live in the borough they represent, if they work or own land within the local authority. And yes, if someone is a councillor already, that can qualify them as working in the borough, meaning they can stand for re-election despite having moved outside of the borough.
I believe this is wrong; and I know that as a matter of policy Southend Labour Party only stand candidates who live in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea. Councillors vote on many local matters, including setting the level of council tax, and it cannot be right for someone to have a hand in that decision when it will not affect them personally.
Worse, though, than nominating someone from outside of Southend — James Cottis is someone who wasn’t good enough for the electorate in Rochford. Yet the Conservative Party thinks that Rochford’s cast-offs are fine for Southend? That doesn’t feel like a compliment…
I don’t, as of yet, know which ward James Cottis has been selected for. I would suggest that if it’s somewhere in the east of the borough, his chances of a seat on the council are slim — the Tories didn’t hold a single ward in James Duddridge’s Rochford & Southend East constituency.
Nevertheless, if this shows anything, it shows how desperate the Conservatives are becoming in Southend, that they can’t even find council candidates who live within the boundaries of the borough. A party on its last legs, surely.