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Pre-Election Gossip

Pre-Election GossipVery soon now the lists of those who are standing to be elected as our next set of councillors will be declared, and we hope to produce our usual personal view of the 'Runners and Riders' with what we consider to be the 'form' of each of the candidates once the final lists are published.

But over the last few weeks speculation and gossip has been rife about who's in and who's out, and what impact it might have on the next iteration of the Council.

For the benefit of our election anorak readers, we thought we'd share what we have picked up from conversations with some of those involved.

Unlike our usual articles with researched facts and evidence, this article is nothing more than the puff of speculation and gossip. Very little of it is fact.

And readers also need to bear in mind that just as much dis-information  reaches us - just as it reaches others - if it suits the purpose of those who formulate it.

So with that 'health warning' we begin....

It's speculated that Fylde could be on the brink of a very different tone and style of council than it has seen in recent years.

In the same way that when the the 'Momentum' movement began to drive events within the Labour Party - culminating in the waning of Blairism and the waxing of Corbynism - so, we're told, the Fylde Conservative group has developed its own change-agent.

That said, it is taking place much more out of the public gaze - probably for fear of internal divisions within the Conservative group being exposed and the electorate being spooked.

So we've seen nothing said in public, and you see no hands moving, but strings are being pulled in a way that we have not seen before.

The centre of the movement for change seems to pivot around Councillors who are close to our MP, in particular his very capable and effective Office Manager Shirley Green (who was first elected to Fylde Council in 2015) and, more recently Chris Dixon, former news editor of the LSA Express who also works for Mr Menzies in a public relations role.

Coalesced around this nucleus is a coterie of individuals who, in general, represent a more youthful perspective on life than the 'old stagers' who have ruled the roost for the last 20 years or so.

The gossip reaching us is that an 'insurgent' powerbase has now been created, and is poised to take control of the local Conservative group after this May's election.

This situation is said to have come about, partly by a process of de-selection of some existing councillors, and partly by choosing particular candidates in their place. A sort of 'purge' is being effected.

To us, the most interesting aspect of this is who will occupy the role of the Leader of the group after the election.

For many years this has been Cllr Susan Fazackerley but a month or two ago we were picking up gossip that she was likely to stand down as group leader, and Cllr Roger Small would assume the role.

However, in the last week or so, we heard that Cllr Fazackerley had changed her mind and decided she would now run for the leadership of the group.

We see this as a litmus test. If Cllr Small becomes leader after the election we think it could be the 'Jeremy Corbyn' moment for Fylde's Conservative group - confirming and signalling a change in tone and direction.

Time will tell.

Subsidiary to this are several reputed Conservative de-selections of which we have heard other councillors speak.

Chief amongst these (at least to our mind) is Cllr Neil Harvey. We understand he has not been chosen to stand again for the Conservatives and is likely to stand as an Independent candidate.

If this gossip proves correct, we are amazed at how foolish the Conservative group has been not to hang on to him. Although we don't agree with the way he has voted on all matters at Fylde, this is a councillor for whom we have great respect. His intellect dwarfs many of the other councillors. He is a councillor who actually reads - and more importantly, someone who can understand (and even read between the lines of), complex officer reports.

We have no doubt that had he been retained within the group, his innate ability would undoubtedly have led to his being a future Leader of the Conservatives.

Maybe that potential might have something to do with the suggestion made to us that he has not been selected for the Party this time.

If that's the case, we think his loss might well turn out to be a gain for others when, freed of the need to toe a party line, he will be able to speak more openly in Council meetings if he is elected as an Independent.

Also reportedly not selected by the Conservatives is Cllr Gail Goodman. Whilst not from the same mould as Cllr Harvey, we regard her as a reliable hard working councillor who cares about people and has the interests of her electorate close to her heart. We understand she intends to stand as an Independent candidate in Ashton Ward.

We also hear that former Cllr Tim Armit (who was narrowly unsuccessful in Kilnhouse Ward at the last election) has not made it through the Conservative selection process this time, and we hear he too is likely to stand as an Independent candidate in, we believe, Ashton Ward this time.

He's a chap with whom we frequently don't agree, but we do respect his independent mind. We've also noticed he often comes from (what we consider to be) and unusual angle, and that's important - because even if you fundamentally disagree with his view, it forces you to reconsider and re-evaluate your own perspective.

We also understand that Conservative Cllr Richard Fradley (who was chosen by Fylde to be their energetic emissary to those involved with securing the future of Lytham Hall) has also not been selected to stand again for the Conservatives. We thought he managed to do a half-decent job of re-normalising the relationship between the Council and Lytham Hall, and we are unclear why he was not selected, nor whether he intends to stand as an independent (or other) candidate.

We also heard that sitting Conservative Cllr Brenda Blackshaw (who currently represents Fairhaven Ward) was told she had not been re-selected for that seat, but might have been offered a seat in another ward. She has taken her bat home and decided to leave the Conservatives and stand as an Independent councillor, styling herself as 'The Independent Voice for Lytham' focused on planning, parking and licensing.

We heard she has not been selected for Fairhaven because there was a desire by conservative insurgents to 'parachute in' someone from East Lancashire who had previously stood in a parliamentary election.

Fairhaven seems to be a troublesome area for the Conservatives - we're also told they appear not to have chosen sitting Cllr David Donaldson as their Candidate on this occasion.

Again, this is simply swirling gossip and unconfirmed at the present time, but we will probably know its accuracy (or not) in a few days.

The bigger surprise though might turn out to be Cllr Tim Ashton. We had heard it said he was retiring from the council. And at the last Council meeting he was voted in as an Alderman which usually happens when you end a substantial term of years on the Council. So we thought he was going from Fylde.

However, since then, questions have been raised about his future by other Fylde councillors. He appears on the most recent Conservative 'In Touch' leaflet for Lytham (albeit as a County Councillor), and one FBC Councillor in particular suggested to us that, having seen a recent change in his internet presence where he was said to have been re-styled 'Tim Ashton - Politician' he might be gearing up to stand as an independent councillor in Lytham and they wondered if he too had been de-selected.

We think that's unlikely, but the next week or so will show whether or not the speculation was right.

On the possible newcomer front, we understand that Carol Lanyon, having gained experience as a member of the St Annes on the Sea Town Council for eight years or so intends to stand as an Independent councillor in her St Leonard's ward seat for Fylde Borough Council as well as the St Annes Town Council this year.

We also know of one new Conservatives who is expected to stand in Clifton Ward in Lytham, and another chap from Wesham Town Council - who is also known to us from the past - and who we believe may be standing as  Conservative candidate in Wesham.

We're aware of a youthful new Labour Party candidate in St Annes, and an equally youthful new Conservative one as well.

And at the recent candidates briefing at Fylde Town Hall, we saw what looked to us to be perhaps 8 or 9 potential Labour candidates and a smattering of what appeared to be independent ones, so we could have some significant change coming.

News has also reached us that the former 'Fylde Ratepayers' have renamed themselves 'Lytham St Annes Independents' in advance of this year's election. Technically this is a political party in its own right (because the name has been registered as such with the Electoral Commission), although (perhaps because it has only two councillors at present), it generally does not display the sort of party control and whipping arrangements that are associated with larger party organisations.

The 'TIGgers' (in Parliament) seem to have set (or echoed) a trend toward Independent representation, and we hear that Fylde Council is likely to be quite well represented by Independent candidates of no political party persuasion this year.

But what about those who are not standing?

Well, at one point we heard that Cllr Edward Nash was not going to stand again, but his manner at recent Council meetings suggests otherwise to us, and we wonder whether this gossip that reached us might have been dis-information.

Definitely retiring and being awarded the role of Alderman this year will be Keith Beckett of Kirkham, a stalwart and very popular member of his local community whose attendance at Fylde has been reduced in recent months because of serious health problems. We wish him well.

Also standing down this year, to our great sadness is Loius Rigby of Freckleton.

This is counterbalance's own 'Saint Louis the Magnificent' - who stood alone like a proud and strong English Oak amongst the miserable pygmies of the Board of Directors of 'Melton Grove' who were chicaning to sell off the social housing estate for 'blood money' election spending, and against whom Cllr Rigby stood both strong and alone for many weeks. Eventually, the Conservative majority on the Board resorted to using commercial law to remove Cllr Rigby from the Board of Directors in order to execute the most appalling deed in Fylde Council's history.

People of Cllr Rigby's strength of character - people who instinctively know right from wrong, and who are willing to stand up and be counted are increasingly rare amongst modern councillors - and although we understand the advancing years meant he was finding Council work more difficult, we're very sorry he has retired.

One other surprise retirement is Ashton Ward Councillor Tony Ford who, we understand will not be standing for election to either St Annes on the Sea Town Council or Fylde Borough Council, and is to develop some of his many other interests.

Cllr Ford Stood as for several years as a Liberal Democrat, but we believe he may no longer be a party member.

He is the sort of Councillor we like.  Not because of his politics - mostly we struggle with the liberal perspective - but because he is always 'on the go' doing things for his electorate and the wider community. He has been a considerable driving force and advocate for matters such as the Allotments, the South Fylde Railway Line, St Annes Town Trails, St Annes in Bloom, various Town Centre initiatives and for many years he ran the 'redundant Christmas Tree collection scheme to provide trees for sand dune stabilisation. His was a very practical, hands-on approach, more at home with making things happen and getting things done than with policy and procedure.

We wish him well in his retirement.

And with that we close this piece of speculation about what the immediate future might hold for at least some of the electors of Fylde - we will soon be able to let readers know the reality of who is standing where.

Dated:  03 April 2019



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