Coup or coronation? Meet the Southend Independents’ new leader


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I’ve said before that one thing that unifies Southend Independent Party Group is an inability to play well with others. Represented in their number is former Labour candidates, former Lib Dem candidates, and until very recently a former Tory.

The news that Cllr Steve Aylen has left the Independent Party Group after a falling out with Ron Woodley is scarcely news. Conservative blogger Cllr Mark Flewitt already covered it in his stream-of-consciousness style, and the Southend Echo in something a little closer to English.

I don’t want to get too deep into Cllr Aylen’s accusations (Putting it simply, I have heard that he was rather brusque to an officer, but that Cllr Woodley threatened him in open committee -Ed), but whilst I don’t agree with Steve on a great deal of subjects — not least culling deer in Belfairs Wood — I have always found him pleasant to deal with and entertaining in the council chamber.

But one of the points Cllr Aylen made when quitting the Independent Party Group was how much like a political party it had become. Hardly a surprise to most of us, but strenuously denied by Messers Woodley and Terry. But given that my little birds this morning report to me that Martin Terry has stepped down as the leader spokesperson of the Independents, to be replaced by Cllr Mike Assenheim, this blogger wonders how much longer the fallacy can continue.

So, firstly, I don’t know the reason why this change has occurred. It could, one guesses, be a coup. If so then I have to say that it is amongst the least competent coups I’ve ever witnessed, given that my spies report that Cllr Terry will be deputy leader spokesperson, rather than being banished to Siberia which is presumably what Cllr Assenheim would do had he seized power directly.

Perhaps this is some manner of political play, then? It’s hard to imagine Cllr Assenheim inspiring a revolution and having the actual determination to put down his leader spokesperson. Paul Van Looy, maybe, but not Assenheim. Assenheim, of course, was in the cabinet until the election, whereupon he was cleared out to make way for James Moyies. He was always the least effective cabinet member in my book, but it was never particularly clear what his role was.

Cllr Assenheim is up for re-election next year in Shoeburyness, and if the rumour mill is to be believed there might be a run against him by this year’s defeated Independent candidate Anne Chalk. Perhaps the thinking is that the increased profile accorded by the leader spokesperson position will give him an electoral boost. Personally, I think people will just be utterly perplexed at how the party-which-definitely-isn’t-a-party works.

There is, though, a slightly darker possibility. I hear whispers of Cllr Assenheim being referred to the standards committee — over what I am not, presently, at liberty to say. I can’t help but wonder if elevating him like this is intended to put him above the law. I hope this is not the intention, and I certainly hope that it will not succeed.

Unless this is a slightly botched putsch, I would bank on Cllr Assenheim’s power in the role being limited. Ron Woodley is the real power behind the Indie throne, with Martin Terry picking up the scraps. I do not expect that Cllr Assenheim will be anything more than a figurehead, perhaps to smooth over the relationships which particularly Ron Woodley’s heavy-handedness has damaged. Cllr Aylen could be dismissed as just a malcontent, but that isn’t terribly reassuring when you’re leading a party of malcontents.

Sorry, a “group”.

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