Usually UKIP councillors have chosen to remain in opposition – even when they have the chance to exercise power in town halls as part of a coalition. For while it looked as if this would happen in Tendring even though they had 22 seats.
But they have ended up splitting. Nine of them became the Tendring UKIP group and backed going into a coalition with the Conservatives. The other 11 remained the official UKIP group enjoying the comfort of opposition.
But it is not a simple as that. Four of the nine have recanted – councillors Anne Davis, Jeffrey Bray, Laurie Gray and Leonard Sibbald – have rejoined the official UKIP group. That leaves five in the Tendring UKIP group – Cllrs Chittock, Hughes, Poonian, M Skeels and MJD Skeels.
Pity the Democractic Services Department at Tendring District Council as they struggle to keep us up to date.
As often happens with these UKIP splits it has become rather acrimonious. The Clacton Gazette reports:
“It is understood that some Tendring Ukip councillors contacted the police after feeling intimidated following their decision to join the breakaway group.
“Essex Police confirmed officers had been contacted and that statements were taken, but that they are “not investigating any offences”.”
Most of the Council consists of the Clacton constituency. What does Douglas Carswell, the UKIP MP for the constituency make of it? According to Breitbart News he backed his councillors joining the coalition with the Conservatives. While the Clacton Gazette report quoted above says that backs the official UKIP group. Both reports may be accurate. It is reasonable of Mr Carswell to favour one course of action – but that to accept that collective responsibility should apply if a different course was decided upon.
Where I think Mr Carswell is in difficulty is in saying both sides need to “simmer down”. If by that he means that it would be preferable for the disagreements to take place without the involvement of the police that he is clearly making a reasonable point. What I don’t see as realistic is to have within one official UKIP group some serving in opposition and others in the administration.
So really the Gang of Five that call themselves “Tendring UKIP” are independents. Cllrs Mick Skeels (Snr) and John Hughes are in the Cabinet. Cllr Skeels has the leisure portfolio – so the state of beaches, or Clacton Lesiure Centre or whether to subsidise the Princes Theatre – or whether it should continue under the dead hand of municipal ownership at all. Then we have Cllr Hughes responsible for Revenues and Benefits. He will share the glory if the Council Tax comes down – or the shame if it goes up.
While they take responsibility and do there best to make a positive difference the 17 strong opposition group can jeer at them – a much easier task. One charge will doubtless be of the “thirty pieces of silver” variety. That the Gang of Five are after the fat juicy Special Responsibility Allowances. Of course I can’t be sure of their motives. However I have long argued that we should abolish all councillor allowances not (just) to save money but also to ensure that councillors serve for the right reasons and that public trust in us might be enhanced.
Doubtless the break with their comrades has been painful for “Tendring UKIP”. But let us at least consider at least the possibility that the gang of five were concerned by how to most effectively improve the lives of the residents they represent. They took the chance to exercise power. Those 17 opposition councillors turned down the chance – they will still get £4,603.53 a year each allowances to sit there and complain. Which is really the most honourable course?
I think the Gang of Five have made the right choice and that secretly Mr Carswell thinks they have too.