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The Council’s AGM has proved to yield a refreshing new look to the Council Chamber. The hefty phalanx of Tories ranged before the Mayor and her Deputy has been dramatically slimmed down. It has become a little quieter too, for hubris had tended towards rowdiness and inattention. The survivors of the night of the long electoral knives appear fewer but more chastened.
The Opposition benches (to the left from my observation point at the Press Desk which is at the back of the Chamber) are populated with a new bunch from Ukip, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. All keen to stress their party is one of people freely elected and unwhipped. And sitting with them the Independent Labour Cllr Phil Rackley.
To the right (inappropriately in political parlance) rests the rump of Labour looking somewhat glum. Indeed it looked worse than it should for two of its Councillors were not present, while one though present in body appeared to be more engaged in tweeting than turning his mind to the matters in hand. Perhaps they are feeling whipped too fiercely.
Taking up the rear, behind Labour, you find the Lib Dems secure in the knowledge that no whip is needed in order to ensure their talented singer always sings from his own song-sheet.
Cllr Phil Turner is filling the seat of the former Tory Leader, Cllr Tony Ball. Well, maybe not filling it literally, for Tony is bigger built, but metaphorically without a doubt. He has projected an appropriate image of a man heading a Party that now listens to the Voter, that admits to previous mistakes, accepts the verdict from the ballot box and is determined to serve the people by working cooperatively with opposition groups in order to make the Council function effectively, efficiently and economically in order to meet its obligations, contain its costs and keep Council tax down.
To do this and as an earnest of good intent he has offered Cabinet positions to both Ukip and Labour. The former accepted, the latter declined and so there are now two Ukippers in the Cabinet. Interestingly, the Ukip Leader, Cllr Kerry Smith, is not one of them, for he is keen to be in a position to rally Ukip opposition to Tory policies his group does not favour.
Phil’s speeches were generally contrite in tone, pithy and to the point. It is a pity that Cllr Kevin Blake, his enthusiastic Deputy has yet to learn that quantity and volume alone do not a good speech make.
Among the important appointments were those of Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Cllr Mo Larkin, having expressed a willingness to stand a further year, was proposed and seconded. Tories and Ukip voted for her. Labour seemed somewhat troubled, but had no alternative candidate. Cllr Danny Lawrence, having declared no wish to stand for Deputy a second year, was succeeded by Cllr Nigel Le Gresley (Ukip) again with no other nomination forthcoming. He made an elegant acceptance speech, pledging himself to supporting Mo in the Mayoral duties and working to raise contributions to the Mayor’s charities.
Both Phil and Mo thanked Danny Lawrence for his year as Deputy Mayor.
The Mayor’s charities provided a delightful interlude, for Mo was able to report some £24,000.00 raised for her charities and to present cheques to Age Matters, Women’s Aid, The British Legion locally and St Luke’s Hospice. In addition she was able to help The Basildon Choral Society.
We learned that Basildon is recognised once again as a Fair Trade borough: Mo received a plaque accordingly.
Phil, having expressed his intention to follow the Voters’ wishes and work cooperatively to the benefit of the Borough as a whole, found these expressions mirrored by Ukip when Kerry Smith — a big lad with a cheeky chappie sort of smile — rose to his feet. He couldn’t resist an anti-Europe ramble that annoyed Labour so much that they demanded he keep to the subject (Basildon). The Mayor directed him to keep to the Order Paper.
The meeting seemed about to degenerate into the sort of “yah boo sucks” type of exchanges so loved by Westminster politicians and so absurd in the Bas Centre when again the Mayor had to call Labour to order and check Kerry.
So there we have it. The Tories are opposed by Ukip and Independent Labour, but they will attempt to work together to keep Basildon’s services going, to deliver good governance. No coalition: merely an attempt where possible to find common ground and where not possible to compromise within limits mutually acceptable. I think.
Labour has pledged itself to oppose everything the others propose, if I catch their drift. They are suggesting that Tories and Ukip are in an effective coalition (if effective why, I wonder, would they wish to oppose) and seem to think charges of coalition will stick and worry the voter. An interesting ploy that might look a little suspect the first time Ukip dissents!
As for the Lib Dems, Geoff Williams, supporting Labour’s view that Tories and Ukip are really a coalition of much the same thing, suggested if a thing quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and looks like a duck, then in all probability it is a duck. An unfortunate analogy, for Cllr Dadds (Tory) mentioned that Geoff always seems to vote with Labour. Pots and kettles spring to mind.
The AGM was relatively orderly. Relatively little time was spent on resolving trivia and the meeting did not drag on into the wee small hours, for which I was truly grateful not having eaten. The newbies will clearly take a little time to settle and get to know procedures. It will take a little time for them to know who they can wind up and how best to do it, and of course the old hands will need a little while to sum up their new opponents, colleagues, fair-weather friends or however they choose to view them.
So have we a whole heap of Tories, some sailing under their own colours, some with a decidedly purplish tint? I think not. I get the impression that there will need to be a new, more pragmatic approach. If it works, the political landscape could change for generations as voters reappraise their loyalties. For the moment a few things are clear: Labour is sitting the dance out. Its posture could be perceived as that of a petulant spoilt child. It could also be a simple tactic to stand aside while the Council grapples with such thorny issues as Laindon Centre, Regeneration, Dry St etc.
Pilate washed his hands: Labour may simply seek to keep theirs clean if they remain uninvolved.
BASILDON BOROUGH COUNCIL ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING: – Thursday 12th June
CABINET ARRANGEMENTSLeader and Deputy LeaderLeader of the Council – Cllr Philip Turner (Cons)Deputy Leader – Cllr Kevin Blake (Cons)Cabinet postsHousing and Community Safety – and Assistant to the Leader – Cllr Tony Hedley (Cons)Regeneration and Planning – Cllr Richard Moore (Cons)Resources – Cllr Stuart Sullivan (Cons)Leisure and Arts – Cllr Kevin Blake (Cons)Environment and Community – Cllr Terri Sargent (Cons)Cabinet Member without portfolio – Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge (Ukip)Cabinet Member without portfolio – Cllr Mark Ellis (Ukip)Mayor and Deputy MayorMayor – Cllr Mo Larkin (Cons)Deputy Mayor – Cllr Nigel Le Gresley (Ukip)Further information, including who will sit on committees, will beavailable in the minutes. If you would like to get the flavour of the meeting, you can get an audio recording of it on the council’s website, www.basildon.gov.uk