THERE are some things we have trouble understanding here at YourThurrock towers. The Schleswig Holstein Question, the popularity of Mama Mia and the other one has to be the workings of Thurrock Council.
You have already read what happened last night. Labour have taken power. When they did, we wondered how long it would be before the eccentricity of former Tory leader, Anne Cheale becoming Mayor would throw the council into chaos. We thought it could be about 30 days. It took about thirty seconds.
Labour appear to believe that you have to take the chances for power when they are presented with them. Like the Lib-Dems who had not seen the inside of cabinet office since the 1930’s, Thurrock Labour haven’t since 2004.
John Kent will no doubt believe that you have to be in it to win it. Their philosophy over the past year or so, when it comes to Tory in-fighting or the Planning Committee appears to have been that they “do not intrude into private grief”. Now they appear to want to be Chief Mourner!
Some thought that they would decline power, let their new members bed in, sort out the old members roles in certain committees. Make sure members turn up to meetings (yep the bar is that low) and sit and wait.
So they have taken power. As you can see, the Tories believe that this is a sham for democracy. Some polling stations across the borough topped 80% turnout with an overwhelming mandate for the Tories.
Labour will no doubt counter that Nick Clegg, a man that 77% of voters didnt vote for stood up yesterday with most radical plans for democracy since 1832.
The question is whether John Kent and Valerie Morris-Cook can control, discipline, motivate and whip the Labour group and present them as a feasible force for change.
It will help that John Kent will be full time. It will help that Valerie will have the “behind the scenes” help of Carl Morris. It will help that they have a much better relationship with the grass roots and it will help that there are some Portfolios where it would be impossible to do any worse.
But there is a lot of old labour there. Having spent weeks in the election with the national party and their back up teams, they really felt like 2010, sometimes with the Labour group it feels like 1974.
But there is also a lot of expertise that will be lost with the Tories. Amanda Arnold made a superb job of Adult Social Care, Barry Johnson was just starting to flow with the Budget Portfolio and Garry Hague’s relationship with business was strong.
There were angry scenes in the Tory offices last night. Some may say too little, too late. They knew what they had to do if they wanted to retain power and that was for Garry to step down but as one senior source said last night: “Why should he be held hostage to the errant ramblings and erratic behaviour of two marginalised figures.”
But was the key to the whole meeting the fact that within minutes, the squabbling had begun. Mayor Ann Cheale stumbled through procedure, Bob Coomber laid out the rules, Independent councillors became confused, Bob laid them out again, Gerard Rice chipped in about the will of the people, Bob laid out the rules again, John Purkiss stood up and told it how it is, that this, once again, was ” a total total embarrassment” and they agreed to defer.
If you didn’t catch any of this, you can see this all on youtube. Just type in “Abbott and Costello. Who’s On First?”
The public will despair. The officers will come into work and do their jobs and wait and see. The £6 billion worth of cuts are, last time we looked, are still there.
And so is the Planning Committee. If that is the scene of the crime. If that is what is holding the borough back. If there is something rotten in the state of New Road, then that cancer needs to be rooted out. At the moment, the officers, the Tories and Labour are in the classic Mexican standoff position.
The Tories believe that this will not last long. That intervention may come or that the ballot box will have it’s say in 2011.
We plan to interview John Kent and Valerie Morris-Cook this afternoon. The situation, as they say, is liquid.