The problem with living in a so-called “safe” seat is that there’s not a great deal of reason for your MP to feel they have to work for their constituents. That’s by no means true of all MPs in safe seats, but if re-election is all but assured, the danger is that these MPs are more bothered about the interests of their parties or themselves than the places that they represent.
The two present Southend parliamentary constituencies — Southend West and Rochford & Southend East — have never returned anything but Conservative MPs. Indeed, for anything different you have to go back to 1945, when the seat of South East Essex covered part of Southend and returned Labour’s Ray Gunter.
So given that it has been 70 years since anything but a Tory MP represented any part of Southend, and present MPs Sir David Amess and James Duddridge both sit on hefty majorities (14,021 and 9,476, respectively), it seems fairly clear to me that both constituencies are Conservative safe seats.
Like I said, that doesn’t mean that MPs have to be disinterested in the town. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they apparently are.
A story in last week’s Southend Echo revealed that the town’s two MPs have refused to meet with Cllr Ron Woodley (IND – Thorpe) since he became leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council over a year ago. Cllr Woodley says:
“It’s a sad situation whereby they are wrapped up in their own political parties and don’t wish to be involved in the future of the town.
“I’m responsible for the whole town and it’s a shame they won’t correspond or be involved in the direction of the town. There are things I could ask them to lobby for in Parliament, but I’m unable to.”
Now, I have my own criticisms of Cllr Woodley (Voiced not infrequently on this blog -Ed), but he is the democratically elected leader of the Council. The refusal of the town’s MPs to meet with him seems childish and infantile.
Sir David didn’t respond to the Echo’s request for comment (Did they check the local hairdressers? -Ed), but James Duddridge did, and managed to confirm all of the worst assumptions about his failure to meet with Cllr Woodley. Apparently, it is entirely due to the voters of Southend having kicked the Tories out of administration in 2014, for the first time in 14 years. Basically, he won’t talk to the current administration because it has the temerity to not be Conservative.
Quoth the Duddridge:
“I have political meetings with John Lamb, who would be the leader of the council if we did not have an anti- Conservative coalition trying to run the council. I am more than happy for any others to cross the floor and participate in a more joined up Conservative team.”
Yeah, James, how dare voters in Southend elect councillors who aren’t Conservative? Don’t they know that this is a safe seat?
What this is is the political equivalent of throwing your toys out of the pram because you haven’t got your way. There are local authorities across this country where the party in administration is not the same as the party of the MP, and in most cases they manage to get along well enough for the sake of the people they are representing. Not so with Dudders.
These are the people who represent us in Parliament. These are the people who are charged with standing up for Southend, in the face of the cuts which to come from the Conservative government. There can surely be no clearer signal that James Duddridge and Sir David Amess are on the side of their party, against the people of Southend, than a refusal to even speak to the elected leader of the council because he’s not in their club.