The dark side of South Essex politics
Back in 2005 I was Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Castle Point, an Essex seat comprising Canvey Island and the "mainland" communities of Benfleet, Thundersley and Hadleigh.
Although I got soundly beaten by Bob Spink MP, then a Tory and now an Independent (via a stint in UKIP), I enjoyed the campaign and made some great friends in the local Labour Party.
However, there was always an awareness of a dark undercurrent in the politics of Castle Point Borough Council. A local businessman had run a wierd campaign against several former Labour councillors including flying insulting banners about them and dropping leaflets from a light aircraft, which led to a lengthy court case. And whenever I went canvassing residents would hint darkly at planning applications being decided not on the basis of planning law but to the benefit of businessmen (and it was always men) with connections to councillors. There was particular anger about the extent of building on the remaining bits of green belt land in a borough that has experienced very rapid development.
Bob Spink, although very rightwing on Europe and immigration issues, was to his credit very much a defender of the green belt and hostile to some of the more outrageous planning applications that were going through. I believe that this contributed to the repeated deselection attempts against him by the leadership of his local party.
Now it transpires that Dr Spink's main critic within the Tory Association, Cllr Bill Sharp, has been suspended from office for six months for:
- Bullying Mr Burchill (the Council's Director of Environment i.e. planning) and treating him with disrespect
- Undermining him professionally
- Intimidating him by calling for his dismissal
- Failing to accept advice which, by law, he could not ignore
- Seeking an advantage for himself and others by pressing for hotel plans at Benfleet's Saddlers Farm Roundabout to be included in a key council planning strategy document, when these plans were being promoted by "a developer friend", the Council's QC said "He continued to lobby for a site in which he clearly had a significant interest.”
Cllr Sharp has previous form for allegedly harassing Dr Spink.
The national Tory Party got rid of Dr Spink rather than backing him when he asked them to investigate the links between dodgy planning deals and the attempts to deselect him. They owe him a big apology.
The Tory Party needs to thoroughly investigate the way its Castle Point Association operates. Tory politics in that part of the world is more reminiscant of southern Louisiana than south Essex, with Cllr Sharp's suspension exposing a very unhealthy nexus between developers and politicians.
This is not a partisan point - I'm sure there are bad apples in other local government barrels who bring into disrepute everyone else in public life who is motivated by public service, not by what they can do for themselves or their mates - and Dr Spink when he was a Tory tried to tackle the issue. Now they need to intervene as a national party to clean up Castle Point politics.
According to the Castle Point Tory website (http://www.castlepointconservatives.com/index.php?sectionid=7&pagenumber=64) Cllr Sharp is their Vice-Chair, Fundraising. You can draw your own conclusions about the appropriateness of a guy who has been suspended for bullying council officers on behalf of developer friends being in charge of raising the cash for local Tory campaigns.