Posted by: iangilbert | April 16, 2012

Independent of reality

I’ve tried to stay out of rows involving people in other wards, however this blog post by my former colleague Anne Chalk has irritated me severely.

Four years ago, Anne Chalk was the Labour candidate for St Lukes ward. Despite previously only standing in Shoeburyness and to be blunt only seeming interested in Shoebury issues, she decided she wanted to try for what looked like a more winnable seat, and party members selected her. Anne was a good candidate for St Lukes, she became well-known in local residents associations, helped a number of local people with issues and generally worked hard at her campaign. In a different political climate she may have won and local politics would look a bit different now.

In contrast to Anne Chalk, during his time in Southend Kevin Robinson has only EVER contested the ward that he and his family lives in. Firstly St Lukes, and then after he moved house, Westborough.

Yet it is now Anne who tries to make political capital out of the fact that Kevin has stood for office in two different areas. Anne has not only changed seats but changed parties in a bid to get elected. Kevin has stayed completely true to his principles.

If Anne was really independent now she would have no interest in weighing in to the Westborough election campaign and no reason for doing so. However, she’s probably worried about the electoral chances of fellow indy Dr Vel (but no, they’re not a party, honest…) So here’s a challenge to Anne, should people vote for Kevin Robinson who opposes the Conservative administration and is working for an alternative or Dr Vel who supports the Conservatives on key issues and says that Nigel Holdcroft has ‘never put a foot wrong in five years’?

Other independents may be forgiven for having misconceptions of how parties work, but Anne knows that the reality of the Labour Party in Southend is very different from the picture she paints.

The image that your average ‘independent’ candidate evokes with talk of whips and party control is so amusing to me I forget that some people might not know any better and be taken in by it.

To listen to Martin Terry and co. you’d think that there were gangs of heavies in shades roaming the Civic Centre making sure that their people vote the right way on issues like public conveniences in Leigh or double yellow lines in Southchurch. You’d think that Ed Miliband was waiting by the phone to check we’re voting the right way according to some grand plan dreamed up in head office.

The boring truth is that we sit down as a group and try to work out a common approach to the big issues affecting the town, we listen to the people we represent and try to do the right thing by them just the same as the Independents claim to. It’s not always possible to reach agreement, and there have certainly been issues where Labour councillors have voted in different ways, however, if you want to affect real change, you need to work together with like-minded people. I don’t believe there is any other way to run anything properly in a system of representative democracy such as we have.

Another thing that Anne wrote is the claim that we only work four or five weeks before an election. That is patently untrue – it wasn’t true of Anne when she was a Labour candidate and it’s not true now. It is the case that we are the underdogs, we do have fewer resources than the Conservative Party, so we can’t work regularly in all seventeen wards in Southend at the same time. However in the wards where we are strong we produce at least four newsletters a year. Labour councillors work together to run a weekly surgery so that anyone in a Labour-held ward can speak face to face with a councillor any week. I’ve attended the vast majority of residents’ meetings in Victoria and other councillors and candidates do likewise in their wards.

I’d be genuinely interested to know how this work rate compares to some Independent candidates and councillors. As a group we don’t always agree, but we do expect each-other to work hard and carry out our responsibilities properly.

As a final thought, I’ll just say that to be honest I’m quite heartened by the fact that Indies are now attacking Labour – at a wild guess I’d say they’re picking up increased levels of Labour support on the doorstep (those who bother with canvassing) and feel the need to respond. In previous years when it was just the Indies and the Tories trading blows I knew we must be a fair way behind.

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