Declaration of Independents
And so to Lytham, where counterbalance had been invited as a fly on the wall to what was billed as the latest development of significance in local politics. With an election looming large, there will be some significant developments over the next few weeks, so we thought we ought to have a look.
Local politicos know our readers take a keen interest in their goings on. They also know that we don't usually wander abroad at night unless it is something important, but we were enticed by offers of free nibbles, a glass of wine and, most importantly a meeting of movers and shakers with something to announce that would interest our readers.
Avoiding the Commissar's empty Pay and Display car park on Pleasant Street where everyone now has to pay up to 8 o'clock at night, we secured the velocipede near to Lytham Station where the parking was unrestricted after 6pm, and hot-footed it to 'Rotary House' to see what was going on.
We were there about 20 minutes before the start, but already the place was buzzing with
conversation and an air of expectation. We settled in the shadows to watch the goings-on, as more and more people arrived, and the room filled up.
There seemed to be several sorts of people arriving - Firstly, there were existing Borough and Parish Councillors who were either members of the Ratepayers Association, or who have been classed variously at differing times as independent, non-aligned or truly independent (and possibly other classifications unknown to us).
Secondly there seemed to be one or two like ourselves, folk who had been invited just to see what was going on.
Thirdly, there were others who - from the snippets of conversation we overheard - were clearly newcomers to politics, but were seriously thinking about standing for election to either a Parish or the Borough Council.
Several of these were well-known local names, but out of deference to them, we're not going to identify them at the moment.
There was lots of chattering, and good humoured banter could be heard echoing around the room for half an hour or so whilst people got to know each other, then a double-act took to the stage to make a short announcement.
First off was Paul (the Mauler) Hayhurst. He said it was not a night for speeches, but welcomed everyone and thanked us all for coming. He was followed by Ratepayer
Councillor Stephen Carpenter who echoed the sentiment on behalf of Kevin Eastham who chairs the Ratepayers group.
The key message - and it was of significance - was that from this night forward, the Ratepayers and independent councillors would no longer exist as separate identities, but would pool their resources, and go forward as one group, united by a common aim to do away with the cabinet system of government, and the whip system that has brought party dogma to overrule common sense in Fylde's decision-making.
The new group is to be known as the 'Fylde Independents.'
They are not going to be a political party, but rather an association of independent minds working together for the good of their electorate.
Their one unifying factor is the intention to remove the cabinet system and to restore democracy.
As one wag put it from the floor - "Opening the doors to democracy will mean closing the cabinet."
Neat strapline, we
There seemed to be wide support for this aim and, as our readers will know from our earlier articles, we were happy to add our applause to the proposal with everyone else.
It seems there are two opportunities for making this change.
Firstly, legislation is now going through Parliament. It will take a year or so to complete, but once finalised, it will mean that small councils like Fylde who have already opted for a Cabinet system, will no longer be able to change back to proper democracy. So under the present Government, the May election is the last chance for Fylde residents to reject the unpopular and undemocratic Cabinet.
The other opportunity - which is quite odd if you think about it - is that if the Conservative Party takes power nationally, they have said they will allow councils to set whatever administrative structure they wish to use.
So a Conservative Government would offer the option to do away with what the Fylde Conservative group has implemented on behalf of New Labour.
The 'independent' duo called for those present to sign up and join forces with the new group. They offered help and support to those who were inexperienced and expert advice for campaigning and so on. Clearly several of the newcomers who were interested, were heading in that direction, and names were exchanged.
From what we could see, there were about 30 to 40 people present, and the blank boxes representing wards needing candidates were filling up as the evening progressed.
We were also able to see the new group's (presumably gossip-based) intelligence about which of the existing Conservative councillors would not be standing again this time. There seemed to be about seven, of which two were high profile Cabinet members.
The Commissar has a majority of just one on the Council, and he has skillfully maintained that majority by seducing selected opposition councillors with offers of committee positions, when he has lost a party member himself.
But if he were to lose seven, Fylde could be in for significant change.
So after our nibble, we wended our way homeward, musing on the possibilities.
The last time we saw an alliance of the independents and ratepayers in power, the perception of many in the coastal strip was that that it was a disaster when the Council was run by people who were not sufficiently empathetic to the particular nature of urban seaside areas.
But that might have been because there were not enough effective independent voices speaking for the coast. If the number of what might be called urban independents were to increase - as seemed likely from those we saw volunteering - it could be a different situation.
And it was, of course, before the Commissar showed how effective he has been at demonstrating both his financial incompetence with managing our money, and his willingness to abdicate responsibility for providing our public services.
counterbalance recognised some of the 'new prospects' from the coastal area, and they seemed quite excited that the declaration by the Independents has been made, and their campaign bandwagon has started to roll.
With the election just about 12 weeks away, we'll keep you up to date with developments.
Dated: 17 February 2007