The significance of and context for Southend’s “Rainbow” coalition has been touched on in a recent posting. Before the elections it comprised Independent, Labour and Lib Dems members and since these numbered more than the Conservatives they therefore held overall control of the Council. Given recent Conservative gains in the Council that is no longer the case but to the rescue has come three disaffected members of UKIP (one expelled permanently and two expelled and according to today’s Echo no longer part of UKIP – which may be just as well given certain members said they will never work with UKIP) who after having formed a new group, substituting Southend for UK in UK Independence Party, have now joined the rainbow coalition, with its leader landing a Council cabinet post. It now means the rainbows control the council, at least that is the theory – noting that Independents are meant to vote freely!
Besides wanting to reflect on the past performance and consider the future prospects of the new administration, I thought I ought first to refer to blogs written by two regular bloggers on local politics and coming to their subjects as it were from opposite sides. One is by Nigel Holdcroft, former leader of the Council and a staunch Conservative; the other is by Matt Dent, a recent candidate and staunch Labour party activist. Both write well, make interesting points and are creative in their use of imagery. Nigel refers to one of my favorite books, Animal Farm – when the sheep changed their slogan at the bequest of their ruling masters, the pigs: from “four feet good – two feet bad” to “four feet good – two feet better” to meet changing circumstances and without reference to things having changed. This was likened to the changing tune of the original coalition partners in dubiously hanging onto power. While I quite see Nigel’s point, I feel more sympathy with Matt’s suggestion, without using the intemperate language I noted recently one of his senior colleagues disapproved of: it is “better for Southend to have a bastard administration, than an administration run by “the bastards””. As far as the ex-UKIP gang of three, now the Southend Independence Party goes, they made a choice, and they needed to do so. I wish them well. We await developments with interest, although going by past voting records I don’t expect too many changes.
As I have said in a previous blog, in the circumstances, with stinging budget cuts at the top of the list, I felt the rainbow coalition have done well and better than might have been expected in their first year and have done enough to warrant having a longer time in power. Politics can be a nasty business and while I still long to see principled, caring, hard working, wise, intelligent people hold the reigns of power, I also recognize compromise is sometimes needed, indeed inevitable in a coalition of four disparate “parties”. Just before the election just taken place, I had an amicable, candid chat with a senior local Conservative and told him what I thought, including the new administration having done more listening than the previous one, citing my particular interests e.g. homelessness. He asked me to give examples of things having improved. He also pointed to things he felt coalition had done wrong, how the budget could have been made better if they had taken heed of good advice and that some of the things the coalition had taken credit for had in fact been initiated by the Tories. I listened carefully but didn’t argue too much as I was not entirely sure of all my facts but recognized there was a debate to be had. I also recognized my friend had made some reasonable points and these needed addressing.
Looking ahead, I look forward to another year of the now no longer three but four colour rainbow administration and hope issues as Southend’s failing schools and regeneration (heatedly discussed at the previous council meeting), getting good resolutions to long running issues like flood defences and St. Lukes health centre, social needs like homelessness, mental health and the elderly, the Seaway and other development possibilities such as the town’s spine, from Victoria Avenue to the pier, the economy generally, the arts and education, attracting investment, will be dealt with and people will take Ron Woodley (leader of the Council) at his word and knock on his door to make creative suggestions as to what needs to happen.
As a lifelong Southender, I take more than a passing interest and would offer to lend a hand. I have no axe to grind when it comes to whether the Rainbows or the Tories rule Southend but I will be watching what each do, asking whether this is in the best interests of the town. I hope the opposition rather than score points will make helpful suggestions and insist on accountability, and the present administration will weigh all good advice and do the right thing.