(Not so) Happy Families
Great disquiet over Independent Alliance candidate for Westoe, South Shields
It seems from information reaching the Corner Shop that the South Tyneside Independent Alliance group of councillors is in the midst of a fractious family argument.
For the last couple of years this Independent party of disaffected former Labourites on South Tyneside District Council has made a lot of mileage from attacking the family interests and values of some of it’s political opponents, specifically the Malcolm family who represented seats in South Shields, and the Waggott family of the former Labour Leader who represented seats in the Jarrow constituency, however this business of seeing siblings, married couples or other relatives represented on our council is nothing new and is almost a tradition around here. Mind you I cannot ever remember councillors from the same family representing the same seat in the past. Some may still disagree in principle with family members following the same political path in life, others will rightly point out that the electors will always have the final say, but one of the reasons why I have so recently backed the idea of open primaries to choose candidates is because it takes these decisions out of the hands of a few at the top of the local party, and that cannot be a bad thing. Times have changed, our perceptions of our politicians have changed, the public mood currently dictates that they are all self serving loathsome characters out to make a few quid on our backs! So we now demand less secrecy, more honesty, candour, transparency and openness from our representatives. Something which apparently the Independent Alliance has campaigned for.
Which begs the question that I asked in the comments of another post – just what procedures do the Independent Alliance employ in choosing their candidates? How have they put themselves in the position of doing exactly what they campaigned against doing?
Information has come to me from a number of reliable sources, both within and without, that the Alliance had a very fractious meeting a few nights ago which was not attended by Cllrs. Jane or Alan Branley and that heated exchanges of views took place regarding the “appointment” of Jane Branley’s son, David McBride, to fight the Westoe seat in South Shields on behalf of the Alliance in May, following the announcement that Cllr. Victor Thompson is to stand down. I have heard allegations that his announced political background and contribution to the Alliance is not as extensive as has been claimed and that other councillors within the group thought their own offspring would make better or more “deserving” candidates. So far, it has been difficult to substantiate some of these allegations since some leading members of the Alliance seem unable to answer my emails requesting further information and clarification (there’s nothing new there).
Why is it that every time I email Jane Branley these days, I get an immediate response from her current deputy Ahmed Khan? I had asked for a list of their leading officers and in double quick time Cllr. Khan informed me that the current position remains unchanged, i.e. Jane is the Leader and he is her deputy. Taking a quick sniff of the air, I decided to seek further clarification regarding the future position as South Tyneside Council approaches it’s annual meeting (I had heard an unconfirmed rumour that Cllr. Khan had decided NOT to seek re-election as Deputy Leader, and had told colleagues of this decision at the aforementioned meeting).
So I fired off this reply to Cllr. Khan:
Can you confirm that you have decided not to seek re-election as deputy leader of your group following the decision to “appoint” a third family member as a possible councillor in the Westoe ward?
Would you support the view that it is not ethically right for a family to attempt to dominate a ward’s representation, and create a “dynasty” in this manner?
Would you agree that the Independent Alliance has made a lot of political mileage from attacking just this type of nepotism in it’s opponents, specifically the Malcolm family and the Waggott family?
Is there truth in the allegations that two Independent councillors would have preferred to see their own sons or daughters as a candidate in Westoe in preference to Mr. McBride?
I await his reply with anticipation and sympathy, yes sympathy. I feel for him, he has spent the best part of the last three years campaigning vigorously against the way he believes the electorate has been treated by their politicians, he has claimed the moral high ground in his campaigns and has been forthright in the manner in which he has presented them, he has vilified his opponents for creating these dynastic fiefdoms, it must gall him to witness his own party leader following exactly the path that he has campaigned against, and apparently doing so without the prior consent , approval, or opinion of her supporters on the ground. However, I will temper my sympathy a little, Cllr. Khan has also championed the candidacy of his own daughter in her first electoral outing.
Cllr. Khan was extremely quick to respond to my first email, but he’s a consummate signed up politician now, with all of the traits of the national big boys in the Conservative or Labour parties, he now has to stall, buy time, and choose his spin words very carefully, will he be a man of principal and stand by his words for once, or a man of political expedience who looks after himself and his position before others?
I am also hearing that there is a fair amount of public disquiet and concern at the attempt to foist Mr. McBride on the Alliance and attempt to have him elected to the family manor in Westoe, I understand that many people in South Shields want their voice to be heard, they want it to be known that it is no longer acceptable in the 2000s for a family to dictate to a larger group and disregard wider opinion. Fiefdom and servitude died a long time ago, and political parties or movements should be far more democratic and accountable to their members and supporters as well as to their electorates.
Considering that on South Tyneside Council, the Independent Alliance’s numbers are now near half of what they were at the beginning, one must question the strategic and tactical leadership of Cllr. Mrs. Branley, during her tenure she has overseen a disastrous divorce when the Progressive Association withdrew it’s support, further splits when other former Labour councillors Elsom and Haram withdrew their support, and more recently the loss of Independent councillor Steve Harrison, on top of that she had to oversee and organise a campaign to have her husband re-elected after embarrassingly being thrown off the council for failure to attend meetings. As a mother hen she seems to have done her best to throw most of her fledgling chicks out of the nest, I’m surprised that so far there has been no challenge to her leadership but after her attempt to cut budgets even further than Labour last week I’m sure her family of ex Labour supporters and the misguided will see that her ineptitude and disconnect from the wider audience of voters outside of Westoe will cost the rest of them dearly.
Perhaps Cllr. Khan might seize the moment for change, who knows?
For now though, the Independent Alliance appears to be the most unhappy family in South Tyneside and they could end up even more unhappy if some them insist on pressing the claims of one particular family over the opinions of the rest of us.