Well seemingly we are about to find out. Independents are meant to be just that but here in Southend we have a gaggle of them who are classified as the ‘independent group’ on the Council. The independents have ten members and they formed a group so that they could get offices at the council and other perks that alone they weren’t entitled too. However this also meant in practice they were a party and weren’t truly independent. It is something that has never really been transmitted to the electorate across the borough.
Well the independent group is about to go from ten to nine as Westborough independent Dr. Vel has made it clear that he wants to secede from the group and sit as a true independent albeit one that is Conservative minded and has already stopped sitting with his independent colleagues.
With the Thorpe Bay gang of three deciding to go into a deal with the minority Tory administration to get perks for Thorpe Bay to the detriment of some of the other independents the group as a whole is starting to look fractured. Cllr. Ron Woodley has masterminded a move that gives him and his Thorpe Bay colleague the balance of power at the Civic Centre although with Dr. Vel also now set to potentially vote with the Tories it weakens his position slightly.
From what I hear through the grapevine the goings-on at the Civic Centre are very interesting under the surface but on the surface not a lot seems to be happening. The independents are at a point where one section of the group are getting better treatment for their constituents compared to other members of the same group. Independents such as Brian Ayling (St. Lukes) and Martin Terry (Westborough) are most certainly not Tory sympathisers unlike the Thorpe Bay three.
It would always come to a point where the independent group would split apart and that moment is set to come. When 2014 comes around the Labour and the Lib Dems can very strongly point to the independent group in part keeping a minority Tory administration in power. The Tories when they are facing the independents can say that they are Tories in sheep’s clothing so why bother voting for them when they could just vote for the real thing? They’ll say that Virgin Cola is coke but it’s not Coca-Cola.’
Unless the independent group collapses then the independents are set for a hard time in 2014. Those who aren’t part of the Thorpe Bay trio will be tainted by their association with them. If the independents want to grow then they need to kick-off the Thorpe Bay trio from the group and go forward with the six of them with Dr. Vel sitting on his own as a true independent. The problem with independents is you don’t know what you are voting for if you vote for one and in the case of Southend the independents all have a different viewpoint and sit under one banner.
The independent group is not going to grow as presently constituted. They either make the Thorpe Bay three go alone and set up their own ‘Thorpe Bay First’ party (which actually would be a great way for them to go if they wanted to ensure they won their seats for another decade) but would Cllr. Woodley be happy to do this and essentially give up his hopes of ever being leader of Southend Council?
Say what you like about the three main parties and how they are doing in Southend. One thing is for sure and that is the independent group is more fractured than all three of them put together. Now all three of the main parties have ammunition to prove that the independents are a party (albeit one with no cohesive direction) and that by voting independent you aren’t voting for anything. You are just voting against something.
The independents have had a great run in Southend but they now face their most uphill battle yet – and this is one that can only be resolved by something drastic – so lets wait to see what drastic move happens.
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