A flag of convenience? So-called ‘Independents’ join the @LincsTories ahead of 2019 District Council elections.k

Grantham and Stamford Conservatives have seen a recent flurry of membership applications from town and district councillors and candidates. Most of these have happened just a few months ahead of the District Council election in May. What a coincidence, eh?

In recent years in Lincolnshire, the Conservative austerity agenda has resulted in the bedroom tax; the creation of foodbanks; the closure of youth centres and libraries; and numerous examples of botched service delivery.  However, in Stamford, three sitting so-called ‘Independent’ councillors have suddenly realised their political affinity lies with the Conservative Party. In Deeping St James, a former Independent District Councillor has come to the same conclusion and yet another Deepings Councillor is rumoured to be at the point of signing up for a blue rosette (NB. It’s not me!).

StandThe appeal of Conservative Party membership in South Kesteven is obvious. It is believed to be a guaranteed ticket to successful election (or re-election). Cllr David Taylor has already tested this thesis by abandoning the Stamford Group of Independents a couple of years ago in order to join the Conservatives. This enabled him to be selected as the Tory candidate for a by-election in Stamford St John’s ward of SKDC on 15th March 2018.

On the same day, another by-election took place in the neighbouring Stamford St George’s ward (caused by the resignation of a Conservative who is believed to have emigrated several months earlier). Town Councillor Gloria Johnson stood as an Independent but was sadly beaten by a young Conservative. Since the election, Gloria Johnson has decided “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and is very likely to stand again as a Conservative candidate when elections take place across the whole of SKDC in May next year (2019). Meanwhile in Deeping St James, former Independent Cllr Judy Stevens has taken the precaution of defecting to the Tories in time to defend her seat.

In 2016, County Councillor for Stamford North, Cllr Robert Foulkes, abandoned the sinking ship of UKIP to join the Conservative bench because, in his own words: “I’m a Conservative at heart and the Conservative Group on the Council were doing an excellent job running Lincolnshire.”. Two weeks ago he was co-opted to Stamford Town Council as a Councillor for All Saints’ Ward.

The latest rumour is that another of the Deepings so-called Independent Councillors is going to ‘cross the floor’ in the very near future. If it’s true it would be a real shame. Conservative Councillors hardly ever vote against the party whip, ask questions at Full Council or speak up for the people who live in their wards. Furthermore, another defection would make it even more difficult for the opposition to hold the Conservative administration to account. For example, at a recent SKDC meeting I suggested having a ‘recorded vote’ on an issue in order to illustrate how the Conservatives follow the party whip and vote as they are told. The record shows that they all did as they were told. A recorded vote can only be requested with the support of 10 councillors. This has become increasingly difficult because there are now only 12 oppostion councillors left.

Cllr Bob Broughton and I were both elected as Independents in 2015 and we are certainly Independent of each other, having publicly disagreed with each other on several issues (although, to be fair, we’ve also publicly agreed on many more). In 2017 we stood in Deepings West & Rural division as opposing Independent candidates in the County Council election. At the time, there was one particular line in Cllr Broughton’s campaign literature with which I tend to agree:

“Only an Independent Councillor can vote in the best interests of his constituents, free of party politics. Democracy works well if there is a healthy opposition holding the majority to account” Cllr Bob Broughton, May 2017.

If you are tired of the hegemony of the Tories in South Kesteven and want to get involved, please get in touch with me on 01778 344070 or phone the Electoral Services people at South Kesteven who I am sure will give you more information.

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