Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who are Stoke-On-Trent's City Independents?

Thursday's Question Time featured an interesting discussion of a particularly potent local issue: why, it was asked, were so many BNP councillors getting elected in Stoke On Trent, and what was to be done about it. The usual arguments on the BNP arose, but, it was suggested, the difference in Stoke On Trent was that the council is run by a coalition of all three main parties, because the council is hung (although predominantly Labour since nineteen canteen). This lack of a conventional opposition was leading people, it was suggested, to register discontent with a coalition-run council and Labour mayor by voting BNP.

Interested, I thought I'd have a look what's going on here. Here's the results of the last local elections, meaning that the council stands as follows:

Labour 16
British National Party 9
Conservative 9
Liberal Democrat 5
Others 21

So that's a total of 60 seats on the council, and no overall control means that a coalition of 31 needs to be formed in order to wield a majority.

It is notable that, if a general sense of discontent with Labour meant that an alternative was wanted, it ought to be quite easy to build a rainbow coalition type thing with LibDem, Tory and these "Others". So the question I asked myself was "Why hasn't this happened, and who are these others?"

Well, if you break the council make-up down by party on their website, you discover (or maybe already know, if you're actually from Stoke-On-Trent, and not just whimsically looking into their political situation for half an hour on a Sunday) the following:

Labour 16 (+1 Elected Mayor)
City Independents 15
Conservative and Independent Alliance 9
Lib Dem 6 (if we count Gavin Webb again, now)
Non-Aligned 3
The Potteries Alliance 2

Most notable here is the fact that, because they don't fit into a national picture, the BBC and other national commentators have ignored what looks to be a fairly major presence, something calling itself the City Independents. But who are they? What do they stand for? I can't seem to find much on the web to inform me about them, so I am left to speculate. Since there are "Non-aligned" independents as well as "City Independents" independents, the implication is that the City Independents are something more than a simple mutually supportive grouping of independents with no overall policy platform. So is this the case?

One of the only things I have turned up about them is the suggestion in this comments thread that they might be BNP-in-all-but-name, which would be a frightening thought, but this is disputed.

So can someone who knows a bit more about Stoke-On-Trent politics enlighten me?


Brian said...

HI Andy,
If you would like to give me a ring (312670) or e mail brian.ward@stoke.gov.uk I will try and explain the present situation with seperate groups at the council, including my own City Independents.
Brian Ward Deputy Leader, City Indipendent Group.

Mark said...

City Independents are basically independent councillors who formed a group for the purposes of getting a decent number of committee seats.

This was back in the days before the Mayor took all the power, when separate commitee's ran the various services of the council.

Without forming a group for this purpose these independent councillors could only expect to get the 'leftovers' of committee seats once they have been allocated to the proper political parties.

As for a rainbow coalition with Conservatives and Lib-Dems... that would be laughable. Both parties back the Labour group.

The Conservative party has actually taken in some independents who are pro-coalition (hence they are locally referred to a the Conservative and Independent group).

The Lib Dem party are lead by a former Labour party member who has always backed closer cooperation with the ruling Labour party.

As for Gavin Webb... I really don't understand what his agenda is (does anybody) or is it simply that the Lib Dem group won't let him become leader again, and second fiddle isn't good enough.

Brian said...

Hope my last e mail explained the situation with City Independent Group


Brian said...

Hi Andy,
I would be inerested in your definition of a "Proper Party"
As the two leading groups by numbers are us (City Independents) and the depleting labour group. It couldn't be that you have a closed mind on who your preffered group should be, could it?
If you really are a free thinker Mark I invite you to join our group where you will not be forced to follow party lines that could be detrimental to our city.
Brian Ward.
City Independent Group.

Andy said...

How odd, three comments in the space of 24 hours after months of inactivity on this post.

Mark: "As for a rainbow coalition with Conservatives and Lib-Dems... that would be laughable. Both parties back the Labour group."

If people in the area are that fed up of the Labour coalition, they have a ready made group to vote for against the coalition. Once the Labour group was no longer the largest group on the council, I would have thought it would be bad politics for the Lib Dems and Tories to continue supporting them. If they persisted, I would have every sympathy with people who voted them out too. But not if that means voting BNP (which it needn't).

Brian: I haven't used the term "proper party" at all in the post. I suggest you take it up with Mark, whose comment above is the first instance of the phrase. As for myself, I can only suggest you re-read my original post to guage my bias as to what constitutes a real grouping, for instance the following:

"Most notable here is the fact that, because they don't fit into a national picture, the BBC and other national commentators have ignored what looks to be a fairly major presence, something calling itself the City Independents."

I don't think I can be accused of all that much closed-mindedness in this regard, since my first reaction to hearing of you as a group was to express my own disappointment with the national media for not even mentioning you.

Or do I assume that the sentence that began "Hi Andy..." was actually addressed to Mark? In which case, never mind.

Now you mention it, though, I do take some issue with the idea that you are a "proper party" in some senses. After all, isn't the point of a party that you have a common platform on which you all stand, so that people know what they're voting for without having to do research into the individuals standing in their area? When I spoke to you by email, you implied that there was pretty much no such common platform, telling me that there is no whipping within your group and that people are therefore free to act according to their own conscience. Indeed, you yourself said that:

"Although we believe in a party political system governing from London, we also believe party politics in local government clouds many issues and distracts members by creating infighting that is completely unnecessary."

Since whipping is pretty key to the normal concept of a party, I do think Mark has some grounds on which to question whether or not you are a "proper party".

Mark said...

Actually I said proper *political* party. I would be surprised if Brian claims that the City Independent group has the full trappings of a political party (whips, national agenda etc etc)

I actually wish the City Independent group all the best with their endeavors, at the moment they *are* the only rational choice in Stoke.

As for joining the group... well I nearly did, back in the day that I was councillor for Stoke West. Regretfully myself and another former LibDem councillor attempted to form our own group.

With hindsight (and hindsight is such an amazing thing) I wish I had joined the Independent Group (as it was back then, before the split into 'City' and 'cozy up to Tories').

Andy: Nothing odd about three posts in 24 hours, I just woke up one morning and found I had my political head on, decided to see what people were up to these days.