Well, it was only a matter of time and all of us in the Conservative Group predicted it would eventually happen – how could it not with such a motley assortment of waifs and strays? – but the inevitable has finally officially been announced. The UKIP Group on Basildon Council has split.
Councillors have formally been notified of the formation of a new political grouping on the Council, to be officially announced at Full Council this evening. Cllrs Alan Ball (UKIP, Wickford Castledon), David Harrison (UKIP, Wickford Park) and Peter Holliman (UKIP, Wickford North) have given notice that they have quit the UKIP Group and are forming their own group, to be called ‘Wickford UKIP’, with Holliman as Leader and Harrison as his deputy.
One of Wickford UKIP’s (do we have to call them ‘WUKIP’???) senior activists, Eunice Brockman, who was the party’s candidate for Wickford North in the recent local elections, was quick to try and put a positive spin on this mass-defection in a Facebook post, saying: “This now means that our Wickford guys will be able to focus even more on issues specific to Wickford…”. Tellingly, she goes on: “…and directly present the wishes and concerns of residents at full council.” This is doubtless a reference to the fact that, at the last meeting of Full Council, the UKIP Group staged a mass walk-out over allocations to the Planning Committee, leaving only David Harrison behind, who stated that he did not feel that walking out of a meeting was any way to represent his residents. Harrison, who had formerly been a UKIP member of the Planning Committee, was subsequently not re-appointed to that committee by his Group Leader.
Mrs Brockman goes on to say, implausibly: “For the conspiracy theorists out there, we would like to state that this is an amicable arrangement between both Basildon and Wickford UKIP. There has not been any argument or falling out with the Basildon group”. She continues, “Wickford UKIP is still a fully integrated member of UKIP…”
This last statement lacks any credibility whatsoever and, while UKIP Group Leader Cllr Linda Allport-Hodge (UKIP, Langdon Hills) may choose to try and play along with this delightful fiction, it is as clear as crystal that this is a massive blow to her leadership. The ludicrous contention advanced, perhaps innocently, by Mrs Brockman – that this has all been done as part of a lovey-dovey, consensual arrangement – is just manifest nonsense. What on earth could be the tactical rationale behind it? How, under any conceivable strategy, could dividing their force on the Council in this way possibly work to the advantage of either the Wickford or Basildon contingents? The idea that the Wickford cadre of three lone councillors (down from four since they lost Nigel Le Gresley in Wickford Castledon, though he remains an Essex County councillor for the Wickford Crouch divison) are going to be able to wield any weight on the Council is laughable. By breaking with Basildon UKIP (BUKIP?), they will also leave Allport-Hodge’s cohort reduced to just eight, giving the Tories a majority of ten seats over them and, with the Labour Group on nine, means that UKIP’s reign as the main opposition party on the Council is at an end and Labour is restored to the Number Two spot. There is absolutely no gain in it for Allport-Hodge, so I find it highly unlikely this is an arrangement she consented to willingly and without acrimony.
This requires no conspiracy theorising. It is abundantly clear. The Wickford lot have always been an awkward fit in Basildon UKIP because most of them are not really ‘Kippers. Before winning their seats in 2014, Harrison and Ball had both stood under different banners. David Harrison stood in Wickford North in 2012 as an Independent and he and Alan Ball both stood as Independents in 2011. All three are, in reality, activists for the anti-development Wickford Action Group but, having failed to get elected under that banner, leapt aboard the UKIP bandwagon to get elected in 2014. But the reality is that they are all significantly more Left-wing than their hard-Right counterparts in Basildon. Harrison, in particular, is a former Labour leader of the Council from back in the ‘70s. Things were tense even when Cllr Kerry Smith (Ind, Nethermayne) was in charge (he famously failed to support Harrison’s bid to abolish the cabinet system). Smith was replaced with Allport-Hodge, who against all the odds has actually turned out to be even more Right-wing and even less articulate than he was!
At the last two meetings of Full Council in direct successions, members of the so-called ‘Wickford Mafia’ have ended up publicly disassociating themselves from Linda Allport-Hodge. The first was after she verbally abused me in the chamber, and both Harrison and Le Gresley stood up and publicly denounced her. Then, as I have said, last time Harrison dramatically broke ranks by declining to join Allport-Hodge in her fit of pique by remaining in the chamber after the rest of his colleagues were marched out by their stroppy leader. It seems abundantly clear to me that Ball, Harrison and Holliman have all found working under Allport-Hodge’s leadership intolerable but they simply lack the numbers it would take to remove her.
So now, officers will have to re-jig the seating at Full Council (we already have the awkward spectacle of Allport-Hodge sitting next to her dispossessed predecessor, Kerry Smith, who leads the Independence Group (consisting of him and his mum) from the benches immediately next to the UKIP Group. We already have the new Liberal Democrat & Green Group to contend with and now the WUKIP ‘Gang of Three’ will have to be shoe-horned in somewhere. As well as that, this latest development does of course mean that the contentious issue of the proportional allocations on Council committees will have to be reopened.
All of this serves to prove one vital and important lesson: you simply cannot trust UKIP to govern responsibly or to represent your views adequately. They fail to stand up for any kind of cohesive platform of views. Instead, they are a hotchpotch of dissenters from other parties, mashing together an incoherent plethora of populist soundbites but failing to produce anything that can actually deliver for residents. They can’t even govern themselves and the internal division caused by their own petty tribal animosities. How could they govern the Borough?