Update 01/03/20: Today I found out that one of my local councilors, Paul Van Looy, has died. Paul has been unwell for some time, although his health has rapidly deteriorated in these past few weeks, so that this news has come as no surprise. Like many, I have fond and interesting memories of Paul, not least being at the other end of his insults, which like others I took as a badge of honour. Concerning his past, I suspect he was no saint and yet in my experience, since I first met him, he has worked hard for the residents that as a councillor he represented, and went about this and no doubt much else he did, in his own unique way. A recent memory was concerning the Count following last May’s local election, the one in which it was announced that Paul had won by an overwhelming majority. Another was a little before his health rapidly changed for the worse, we enjoyed a pleasant chat in our local community cafe, covering all sorts of issues, with Paul doing what he was good at – straight talking. Going back to the day Paul regained his seat, we agreed a bet. It was the size of his majority that led to our having a bet. I LOST – maybe I should have known better – Paul had impeccable political instincts. Paul chose to donate his winnings to a homeless project I am involved in and matched it with his own donation. Paul was a larger than life character, with a unique brand of humour and sense of perspective, a one of a kind, who will be much missed. Our thoughts are with his family. It seems to me, I can do no better than republish what I posted in August, which shows Paul at his indomitable best and as a true independent …
I happened to catch a glance at today’s Southend Echo headline, earlier today: “I quit! Southend councillor launches tirade against ruling group”, and knew I just had to do a blog on my thoughts. I was aware of Paul leaving the Independent Alliance when a Tory councilor friend posted on his Facebook page to that effect over the weekend, and much to my amusement, with several, mainly Tories, commenting their approval of his “brave” decision.
The Echo typically strove to stir up divisions and muddy the waters by using words like “tirade” and pointing out Paul had accused former colleagues of being on ego trips and being afraid to get rid of the “dead wood” from among Council officers, and by getting reaction quotes from his former colleagues. While tempted to wade in with my two penneth, including concurring with some of what Paul supposedly said, I will leave that for others to argue about.
I have known Paul for some twelve years, ever since he threw his hat in the ring to become a councilor (my councilor in representing St. Lukes ward), and while we have had our occasional ding dongs, unsurprising given his Trump like gladiatorial approach that says it as it is and gives as good as he gets, over the years I have come to respect him for putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to standing up for the residents he had been elected to represent and being par exemplar among fellow councilors for doing so.
Politics is a funny old game and where compromise is needed to achieve what one wants to do, even from those most principled among politicians. While “Independent Party” (or if you will Alliance – which often amounts to the same thing) may be an oxymoron, I quite get it that those who have been elected on an “Independent” ticket might want to be part of an alliance / party for that very reason, knowing that being unaligned as Paul has now chosen to be does come at a price, but that is yet another subject I leave to others.
I agree with Paul: “At the last election we should have stayed as independent and kept an eye on the Conservative Party. We as the Independent Group could have blocked anything the Tories tried to put through council and which we didn’t agree with. I know the residents of Southend didn’t want a Tory run council and the residents of Southend didn’t want a Labour-run council” and sadly note that in recent years (maybe it has ever been thus) there has been an inordinate amount of politicking from ALL parties, such that none can claim the moral high ground, with Paul’s decision and reaction and reaction to Paul’s reaction as mere recent examples.
Take a few years back toward the end of the period of “Rainbow” administration. The Tories moved a vote of no confidence at then council leader, Ron Woodley, claiming he had acted inappropriately in sending out politically slanted letters during the Purdah period, when all that was needed imo was a proverbial slap on the wrists. Ron never forgot, partly influencing the pathetic comedy of events we recently witnessed. I suspect the same Tories today did not expect their politicking to come back and bite them in the bum.
When the Tories lost their overall majority in May’s local elections, I expected that there would be a new Rainbow administration comprising Independent, Labour and LibDem membership, and I for one would have been fine with this. The significant difference this time round was Labour had more councillors than the Independents and could nominate the leader, something the Independents objected to. When it came to voting for the Council leader, the Independents abstained and this let in the Tories.
A month later all this changed and a coup was successfully waged ousting the Tories and letting in the Rainbows under a Labour leader. Other than making some derogatory comments about the Independents, I couldn’t figure out what the Tories had done wrong. Like Paul, I felt this was unnecessary and, despite fine words to justify the action, it seemed to be more about politicking and power than principle. When it came to choosing councilor representatives for various positions, these were shared out among the rainbow members, irrespective that some positions like with sports and culture had little to do with politics and was needlessly made political, when in my view the best people for these jobs were Tories.
So in wrapping up – well done Paul Van Looy for being brave AND principled! I have met many fine councilors over the years as well as those who have fallen short. Councillors should always remember they are there to represent the people they have been called to represent, and not their own political ambitions or personal egos. As for council officers the same sentiments apply, but if they are not doing their job as they ought should not be in their job.