Former deputy leader on Southend Council refuses to participate in coalition with new administration

An independent councillor has refused to be part of any “left-leaning administration” taking charge at Southend City Council, despite promises from the new leader of the city’s Labour Party.

Ron Woodley, former deputy leader of the council and councillor for Thorpe ward, says he will not be part of the Independent group that has allied itself to Labour, with some members said to include Momentum supporters.

Cllr Woodley will now represent residents as a non-aligned independent, rather than as part of the Independent Group.

Alongside the Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group is in talks to form an administration with Labour under new leader Stephen George.

It follows former leader Ian Gilbert being ousted during a shock leadership vote over the weekend.

Cllr George, who is set to become leader at next Thursday’s council meeting, has strongly denied allegations from a party insider that there was a “hard left” influence in the proposed new coalition.

He said: “The Labour Party is historically a broad church made up from a mixture of socialists and social democrats, whose respective fortunes have ebbed and flowed over time.

“However ,at the end of the day the fact remains that our constant opponents have always been the Conservative Party and its values.

“Whilst I was highly disappointed, although not entirely surprised, at the attempts by a member of the Labour Group to try and undermine the new administration, I can confirm that negotiations are ongoing with the group leaders of the Liberal Democrats and Independents respectively.

“There are no plans to change the aims and policies of the existing coalition.”

Nevertheless, Cllr Woodley, who stepped down as deputy leader of the council before the elections, said: “I find myself unable to continue supporting a left-leaning political party or a far-right leaning political party.

“Therefore, I have decided that I will once again only support the residents of Thorpe Ward as an Independent councillor.

“I believe that the Independent group is heading in a direction which is contrary to the vision that I have, not only for Thorpe Ward but Southend.”

Cllr Martin Terry, leader of the Independent group said: “We are not going to serve on either a right or a left ideological council. I respect Ron’s views and that he believes he can be more effective on his own.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter