When I wrote about the 6th May 2021 local elections (see here), there were still a couple of loose ends to tie up.
Now I can – starting with who will form the next administration, given that even though the Conservatives won seats and have the largest representation in the Council, but not an overall majority. Unsurprisingly to most who gave it much thought, the rainbows are back (Labour, Lib Dem and the aligned version of Independents). As for deals and sweeteners, and assorted related discussion that only a fly on the wall would have known for sure, I have to plead ignorance. Personally, while I would prefer the Conservatives back (but only just) as my protest against the wokeism that led to Councillors Matt Dent and Martin Terry trying to get rid of now stood down deputy mayor, Councillor Mark Flewitt, for alleged racism (that never was), resulting in spending (I am told £20K) of public money to do so, I don’t have strong views. And, to redress the balance, Tony Cox and his crew having a pop at Indies and others for politicking is sheer hypocrisy, because they do the same and Indies may be correct to say they need to be political in order to have a meaningful voice.
I decided to watch the first full council meeting webcast (see here and here) partly to find out who now runs the administration and to see the new mayor in action. I was pleased for Margaret Borton to be elected as Southend’s 100th mayor with Kevin Robinson as her deputy. I gladly note that one of her nominated charities to support is Trust Links (which I helped to found, back in the day). While I have not spoken to either for some time, I recall our past positive meetings. I wish both well, while feeling I need to express my disappointment that she chose to exercise her right to vote and thus violated a long-held tradition of mayoral neutrality. I do like Southend’s system of mayors, even though, from what I can make out, a person becomes mayor largely as a consequence of how long they have served as councillor. I like the idea that a person can go from and go back to being an ordinary citizen to being Southend’s first citizen for a year, while serving as mayor. In the case of the standing down mayor, John Lamb, it was for two years because of Covid, and given the accolades from all sides of the chamber, it seemed he did a good job representing the town under what were unexpected, difficult and challenging circumstances. Normally, the deputy mayor goes on to be mayor, but this time that was not the case for Mark Flewitt, who stood down as councillor and would have made a great mayor, and has served the town well, notwithstanding the shenanigans that tried to get rid of him.
As for the make-up of the new administration, I am neither disappointed nor elated. Politics being what it is gave the result it did – I daresay the aligned Indies and LibDems thought they would do better to throw their lot in with Labour and all I have left to say is good luck to Ian Gilbert on being re-elected Leader of the Council. I was disappointed though, although not surprised, to find that when it came to election of committee chairs, it was all done on party political lines (no doubt part a consequence of the quid pro quo that happened earlier), even on matters that ought to have nothing to do with politics but rather who is best for the job, e.g. the Arts. I note my own Councillor, Trevor Harp, has stood down from his health cabinet post and do so noting he has been competent and diligent in that role. I also understand CEO Alison Griffin is soon to leave the Council, to realise her ambitions. I wish her well in her new role.
I end by wishing the Council, and especially the new administration, well, in what remains challenging times and to remind them of the Council strapline, which is to make Southend better. Southend is still my town and it still has a lot going for it – I like to think councillors, along with officers, and the voluntary sector, will be working (together) to make lives better, regardless of the politics.