COULD the tabling of a vote of no confidence in the Leader of Thurrock Council, Garry Hague by a backbench Tory councillor undermine the prospects of the Conservative Party winning the General Election in 2010?
Before we try to answer that question, we have to consider why has chosen to make this decision.
At this point in time, Cllr Cheale has not made herself available for interview.
From evidence gathered, it seems that her beef is with the leadership of Garry Hague. A chippy Tory ex-leader is nothing new (Ted Heath made a career of it) but it is the reasons that may be the most damaging.
If we return to the Audit Commissions Direction of Travel statement of almost a year ago; It pointed to the fundamental breakdown of the relationship between officers and members. Has it improved? Not in the Planning Committee it hasn’t where, funnily enough Cllr Cheale sits.
The errant behaviour of the Planning Committee has been well documented in this newspaper.
That night must have been a humiliation for the members of the Planning Committee.
The pre-meeting briefing was played out in the chamber behind closed doors but members of the press and public could look through the plate glass windows and see the committee surrounded by Interim Chief Bob Coomber, QC John Hobson and most signficantly Leader Garry Hague and Deputy Leader Amanda Arnold.
It was like: “I’m On The Planning Committee, Get Me Out of Here!”
But rightly or wrongly, people believe in fundamental principles of democracy. They do not believe in an interim chief exec bringing in a barrister to advise, counsel and guide a committee peopled by councillors with a democratic mandate.
For Anne, the principle may be that at certain times you have to decide whose side are you on and she may well believe that on this occasion and on other occasions, Garry Hague is being heavily influenced by the cabal of consultants and interim officers that have a stranglehold on the council.
One woman’s cabal of consultants is another man’s condeferacy of experts who are attempting and, according to the Improvement Board, doing well, at dragging Thurrock away from acting like a dysfunctional parish council and up to speed with all the demands of the 21st century. In order to make an omlette etc etc…
Scorpion and the Frog
But perhaps this is also wrapped up in the obsessive internecine warfare that the Tories in Thurrock seem addicted to.
The Ikea 6 meet regularly and grumble that “Nobody tells them anything”.
Cllrs Ann Cheale and Ian Harrison (we understand) have long standing grievances with other senior Tory grandees that go back to 1977!
What Chairman of the Planning Committee, Cllr Stuart St-Clair Haslam is thinking is anyone’s business. His one man walk out over the Titan Works was highly significant. He may well be thinking about his options of which there are many.
Former Tories are queuing up to stand as Independents in the May elections. Indeed former Mayor Colin Churchman was actively campaigning in Aveley yesterday.
While one Tory blogger (CoolBlueRiver) clearly feels that the workings of the South Basildon and East Thurrock Local Government Committee needs looking at.
Is your head hurting yet?
Where is a “Malcolm Tucker” when you need one?
The real problem is that there isn’t an enforcer in the party. A Chief Whip who will, in no uncertain terms, make it their business to tell these disparate groups to get their act together, put up or shut up. There are some really nice guys in the party but the only thing you get from standing in the middle of the road is run over.
Without such a person, the party has found itself in this embarrassing mess, washing their dirty laundry in public.
There is a distinct possibility that having lost a vote of confidence, Garry Hague may find his place as Council Leader and Leader of the Tory Group as untenable.
Where do the Tories go from here? They can elect who they like. They haven’t solved their offending behaviour. Until they do that, they are at risk of becoming a laughing stock.
The Tories now have two weeks to stand up and act as one. Privately, Labour admire the ability of the Tories to survive. They clung on by their fingertips last March after Terry Hipsey’s defection but this may be going down for the third time.
The Real Cost will be Public Perception.
The tabled vote of no confidence is set for a council meeting where the budget will be debated; a budget that will decide on jobs, careers, food on the table and people’s future.
(Indeed, even at the time of writing this comment piece, we received news from community organisation, Ngage, that they were absolutely devastated to be losing all of their funding from Thurrock Council).
It will be a PR disaster that all that, will be undermined by this debate. 22 Tories will claim it is not their fault but others may claim that actively or passively they have nurtured a climate of cliques, cabals and conspiracy that the people of Thurrock do not deserve.
The Audit Commission will not be impressed. They have attended previous meetings and we can imagine them taking a seat here.
Someone from CCHQ needs to get here fast.
What May Happen
Scenario No 1
Cllr for Corringham and Fobbing, Anne Cheale, cuts a somewhat peripheral figure these days. Far removed from the days as Leader of the Council. Her tabled motion is treated as the errant ramblings of some form of later day Cassandra.
Between now (Sunday 14th) and the day of full council (Wed 25th), senior Tories and friends will advise, coax, entreat and plead for Anne to remove the motion (or even not turn up) and let the matter die.
Scenario No 2
Cllr Cheale, a lady not for turning (where have I heard that before?) refuses to withdraw the motion, attends council, finds someone to second it.
The two Tories are supported by 23 Labour to make 25: 21 Tories and two Independents vote against. The BNP abstain. The vote goes through.
(There is a big assumption that all the Labour councillors turn up: Eight failed to turn up last time.)
Cllr Hague stands down and the Tories elect a new leader and survive for another week, month, who knows.
There are numerous permutations that we won’t bore you with. The challenge is there for Garry Hague. He now has to show his mettle and his leadership. He has to gather his party around him and prove to all concerned that they are a united party and that Cllr Cheale’s motion is the relic of the past, a storm in a tea-cup that has no bearings on the issues of the day.
He could easily treat it as a minor quibble from a disaffected former senior Tory. Yep, that is what Maggie Thatcher thought before Sir Geoffrey Howe made his famous speech from the backbenches in Nov 1990.
What Ann Cheale has done is give Labour fantastic ammunition for both the council elections and the General Elections which leads us to the question asked at the beginning of this piece.
Personally, anything is possible and that what makes Thurrock politics fascinating. This story could be old news by monday lunchtime. At the other extreme, the chaos theory could come into play. To be continued……