Yesterday I blogged the list of the Conservative shadow cabinet on Southend Borough Council, and left it deliberately without comment.
I spent last year rather confused as to who was in the shadow cabinet, and what they were doing (Bugger all being the standard response to that particular question -Ed). So this year I made a special effort to find out who these people were, and the result was posted up for the whole world to see.
Now, there are some observations to be made about the names on that list. There are more pertinent observations, perhaps, to be made about the names which aren’t on that list. For one thing, after he managed to get re-elected, poor Derek Jarvis is out on his ear. More perplexing, though, is that having gotten the heavyweight they sorely needed back on the Tory benches in the form of Tony Cox, he’s been given…err, diddley squat.
This, I suspect, is the aftermath of an attempted coup at the top of the Conservative Party in Southend.
The fact that there was a coup planned against John Lamb’s leadership of the Conservative Group on the council was, at the count, probably the worst kept political secret in Southend. I’m not sure how everyone knew (Not me this time, guv! -Ed), but even the Echo nodded at it.
The plan was that James Courtenay, my erstwhile opponent in Blenheim Park, would topple John Lamb, whilst Tony Cox would supplant Ann Holland as deputy. The new ticket would give the Conservatives a bit of much-needed umph and political nous. Of course, the fact that John Lamb remains leader of the group and Ann Holland his deputy tells you something about how successfully this Ides of March went.
Not having been present at the meeting of the Conservative Group, I’ve no idea what happened. Both James and Tony are savvy operators, and I can’t believe that they would have made the attempt — and from what my little birds tell me, they did make the attempt — if they didn’t think they had the numbers to pull it off. Something, presumably, changed their colleagues’ minds.
I’d be disappointed if it was the election performance. Yes, the Tories did well. They finished three seats better off than they started, and with a solid share of the vote overall. But on the back of the sound rejection they suffered in 2014, they would be foolish to attribute it to the prowess of the current leadership, over the national swing of a general election.
Whatever their reasons, I see the fingerprints of that failed leadership challenge all over this new shadow cabinet. Tony isn’t there, because John Lamb sees him as a threat. By all accounts Cllr Lamb rules with an iron fist, rather than leading by consent. But the presence of Habermel and Folkard in his top team, in preference to the much stronger figures of Jarvis and Cox, seems to me to be a mark of his weakness, rather than his strength.
Look at the distribution of the wards represented. Only one — Ann Holland — represents a seat in the east of the borough, mirroring the still weakened state of the Conservatives there. I still hold that, West Shoebury aside, had it not been for the general election the Tories could well have gone a second election without a single win in the East.
With my partisan hat on, I’ll raise a glass to it. Long may the short-sightedness of Southend Conservatives and the tyranny of John Lamb continue. Because if the blue team think that this is their path back into power, I suspect they may find themselves sorely mistaken.