Some very disappointing news dropped into my inbox earlier today and confirmation has come that Cllr Ric Morgan has quit the party and has joined the Liberal Party. He will continue to serve as one of the three councillors for Prittlewell and whilst a member of the Liberal Party he will be serving as an independent. This means in terms of the make-up of the council the independents are now the main party of opposition although with one of their members effectively voting with the Tories on all issues and the Thorpe Bay three having a voting pact with the Tories it is pretty much a farce and you can’t really tell the make-up of the independents on Southend Council.
On a Lib Dem level I think this is a bigger blow than how it might seem to the outsider. Ric Morgan is in the (accurate) words of the local rag was a maverick and the Lib Dems badly need someone like him. I don’t think it is a secret to say that there was tensions between Ric and the leader of the Lib Dems on Southend Council and that these tensions were not being solved any time soon. Some people have already contacted me to say that this was a secret and I shouldn’t be saying secretive internal stuff on the blog. I think the way Ric has left and his public trashing of Cllr Longley and the Lib Dems for having no vision in the local rag pretty much shows that these tensions are out in the open.
I don’t think it is right to comment on those issues as I am not a councillor and am therefore not privy to a lot of what goes on but I do think I can say that I have been concerned in my what year and a half as a member of where the party is going in the borough. The vision is very short-term and is extremely defensive. The talk is of keeping what we have and not expanding our horizons and making progress across the town. Whilst the Lib Dems nationally are not exactly the flavour of the month there are pockets across the country where the Lib Dems are doing well. These are places with a clear message and a clear vision. That isn’t something the Lib Dems currently have in Southend – well not to my knowledge anyway.
The membership of the party locally has pretty much stagnated in the past year or so with no real movement or defections. New blood and new ideas are what keeps political parties going. I am the nominal head of Liberal Youth in the borough but in all honesty I have been pretty awful. However I had a meeting last week with Essex Liberal Youth and I’ll be working on this in the near future to start getting the Liberal Youth active in Southend. Hopefully this will help bring in some more voices to the discussion.
I thought the ‘Six to Fix’ that the party put out for the May elections was actually a pretty decent document. However these issues have not gone away because the election is over. These are things that Lib Dems should still be talking about. As for Cllr Morgan saying that his local colleagues are ‘lacking in vision’ that is a claim that could easily be substantiated but to be fair most political parties could be accused of such a thing.
This departure is not a good thing for the Lib Dems. I won’t sugar coat it but I am hopeful that it is the kick up the backside that the party need locally. With no elections next year things seem to be in a bit of a malaise but if the Lib Dems carry on down this path then in four years I could easily see the Lib Dems holding just Leigh on the council. This is the strongest warning shot across the bow that the party could have gotten locally. The Lib Dems have for many moons been the natural opposition to the Tories in Southend. The way things are going they might be hind both the independents and Labour in the very near future.