Earlier this morning , at a press conference, it was announced that a deal has been reached between the Independent, Labour and Lib Dem groups to form a coalition administration on Southend Borough Council, under the leadership of Ron Woodley.
News this may well be, but to anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention it won’t come as a surprise.
In the jfilm Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World, there is a terrible joke in which Russell Crowe’s character challenges Paul Bettany’s to pick between two weevils on the tablecloth. Paul Bettany’s physician analytically picks the larger if the pair, provoking gales of laughter from Crowe, who tells him, “Don’t you know, doctor, in the service you must always choose the lesser of two weevils!”
A terrible joke. But somewhat illustrative of the choice facing Southend Labour following the local elections.
The votes have been counted (or, in Martin Terry’s case, weighed) and there were a whole host of new councillors waking up this morning.
I was at the count myself live-tweeting — and live-blogging, when I could keep up — and I saw events as they unfolded. If you haven’t seen the results yet, you can take a look here. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Done?
So the big story is the one that the BBC are currently trailing; the surge of UKIP across the country. But it wasn’t just UKIP, so how did everyone else do?
The below letter was sent to the Southend Echo on Wednesday 14th May 2014. See these previousposts for the background.
On Monday evening I attended the local election debate at Hinguar Primary School for West Shoebury and Shoeburyness candidates, advertised in your pages (Southend Echo, 9th May). You can imagine my surprise, then, where upon arrival and with no notice I was informed that the terms had been changed and it would be just for Shoeburyness candidates.
The effect was to create a debate only between the sitting Conservative councillor and the Independent candidate (whose group had been involved in organising the event). It was a shame that the debate was so needlessly constrained, particularly given that the main subject of discussion (the sea wall) is primarily in West Shoebury ward, where I am campaigning to represent the residents after the election.
But what angered me greatly was the assertion that the Labour candidate for Shoeburyness had “decided not to turn up”. This was absolutely not true. Maggie Kelly was unable to attend due to the short notice and her working commitments, which is the very reason that I – as the candidate for West Shoebury – was to take part in the debate.
Labour’s voice was deliberately cut out of the debate and I am very disappointed that the organisers resorted to this, as Labour is the only party in Southend with an optimistic and forward-looking plan for the borough. A cynic might wonder if this was the reason I was not allowed to participate.
Matthew S. Dent Labour candidate for West Shoebury
Firstly, an apology. It is, I suspect, not an apology owed by myself, but I will give it nonetheless. To anyone who attended the hustings last night at Hinguar Primary School in order to see and listen to me, you would have been disappointed.
I arrived at Hinguar at ten to seven, only to be told by Cllr Anne Chalk that I wouldn’t in fact be speaking. It had changed, apparently, from the West Shoebury and Shoeburyness hustings that had been advertised, to a Shoeburyness only debate. And as such, only Conservative Cllr Roger Hadley and Independent candidate Nick Ward would speak.
Now, I don’t know when this decision was made. I do know that I had discussed my intentions today and last night with senior Labour councillors, and no such communication had reached any of us. I do however know that the decision served to make it an Independent vs Tory battle, and that the accusation that the Labour Shoeburyness candidate had not turned up was entirely spurious. Maggie Kelly was never intended to come, as she was working.
But actually, having sat through the spectacle ensued, I’m not sure I’m not glad to have been little part of it.
Voting day is almost upon us, and the date to remember for the local elections across England is 22nd May. In Southend-on-Sea, there is everything to play for. For the first time in many years, control of the council hangs in the balance. In 2014, your vote counts more than ever to shape the future direction of the town. The main parties pitching their platforms are the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Independents, UKIP, and of course Labour.
So what are the Labour Party offering the voters of Southend in 2014?
We at Castle Dent (n.b. not an actual castle) had an interesting caller yesterday afternoon. Whilst the sun beat down on Southend, the doorbell rang, and I was the one to open the door.
And it opened onto a strange gentlemen, with a clipboard in hand, and a look I knew well. He introduced himself as the Conservative candidate for Victoria Ward. When he asked about my own politics, I was honest — a simple Google search would have told him the truth any how. It was a little different to how I would have canvassed someone on the doorstep; a lecture on the follies of François Hollande and the Parti Socialiste.
His name was Denis Garne, and less than half an hour later I learnt that he was a former councillor on Southend Borough Council. Representing the, erm, Labour Party.
My apologies to anyone whose non-specific Googling has brought them to this page. This blog is, of course, about political whipping. Which is less kinky than what most of you clicked the link for. Sorry.
For the uninitiated, a party whip is responsible for keeping the party in line, and making sure that all of the representatives of that party follow the line set by the leadership. It’s a fairly thankless task, but it’s the cornerstone of stable governance under the political party system.
And, on Southend Borough Council, the Independent Party Group make a point of not using a whip. So, for that matter, do UKIP. They flaunt it on their campaign literature as some sort of badge of honour. If only it were that straightforward.
On Thursday, the voters of a safe Conservative ward in Southend-on-Sea went to the polls in a by-election. When the ballots were counted, the Conservative candidate was returned as the new councillor representing the ward.
By the numbers, you might say.
Except, that bare bones overview doesn’t quite show the full picture of what happened in West Leigh ward this week.
So after nearly two months in Southend, I finally ran out of excuses and found myself today canvassing with Southend Labour Party.
It rained — of course it did — but that didn’t stop us — myself, Councillors Ware-Lane and Jones, and Labour candidate for 2014 Chas Willis — knocking on doors up and down the marginal Kursaal ward. Not how many people would choose to spend their Saturday mornings, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any sort of campaigning.
As I said before, after leaving Wokingham I drifted a bit from local politics, but I’m determined to get stuck back in here.
And Kursaal was a good place to start. Over the course of a couple of hours we spoke to residents about all manner of issues — with lack of parking a big issue. The parking in Southend is a huge problem, particularly given that it’s a hybrid of commuter and tourist town.
The other issue was around Christchurch Park. Residents were concerned that the shortage of children’s play equipment had led to it becoming a focal point for anti-social behaviour even down to drug dealing and use on a residential street.
The fact that the area has Labour representatives means that we can take some action immediately. But each additional councillor gives more power to deliver changes for the better more quickly; so there is real and tangible importance to each vote cast next May.