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Why, as a lifelong Labour supporter, I could never go back - even if Confelicity collapsed

Updated: Apr 15

Within the few that follow local politics, there is a band of mischievous commentators that think Southend Confelicity was born as a political off-shoot of Adventure Island, and has, by these same people, been christened, comically, the ‘Peter Pans Playground Party’ and inter-changeably CONfelicity. Some even think the name was to indicate some connection to the Conservatives because we share the same first three letters!


We were originally called The Southend Party, but Jon Humphrys, our Deputy Leader and co-founder, pointed out to us that we may wish to one day expand into other parts of the country, for which the name wouldn’t be quite be so applicable.


The eventual name actually came from an article in The Guardian written by Susie Dent from Countdown, which was about brilliant forgotten words of the English language (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/26/respair-cacklefart-positive-words-english-language). And one of those words happened to be Confelicity - meaning ‘joy in another person's happiness’. I liked the meaning and the party voted in favour of it.


There is some name-regret because few could pronounce nor understand it, but in the long-run we should be fine! The fluky genius of it is we practically own the word on Google without having to pay a penny!


So, if not for some grand plan by Adventure Island to have a theme park run a council, why do we really exist?


The reason isn’t anywhere near so grandiose nor clumsily cunning!


My Dad happily campaigned with me when I stood for Labour. His main focus is to stop the incomprehensible decision by Labour to charge for parking 6pm to 9pm on the seafront. Aside from that, he is apolitical.



Sadly, for those interested in low-level Southend conspiracy theories, Confelicity has nothing to do with a theme park.


It is actually because of Southend Labour. You could argue I am either whistleblowing or sour-graping, but I shall let you decide.


What I thought Labour was


My ignorance of what the Labour Party is only became known to me when I pro-actively involved myself in the party around 5 years ago. Previous to that I was a member for over 15 years and a Labour voter since I was legally able to do so.


As someone brought up on social benefits, my simple understanding was that Labour looked after people. Conversely, the Tory Party were only for the rich.


My vote was easy to give. I wasn’t voting for socialism (I hardly knew what that was) nor did I have any psychological attachment to what might be considered working class, I just wanted a party who I thought cared about people. I needed that care growing up, and so I voted for the party most likely to give it.


Like most of the country, I have never formerly studied politics. I don’t know the ins and outs of the political structures and history of how everything works. All I think we want is to live happy and healthy lives - it’s not complicated in my eyes. Yet, so much seems to be against achieving this seemingly simple task - hence one of the reasons why I wanted to get involved.


And yet when I entered the world of some of the people that shape the environment we live within, it was not what I thought it’d be.


Inside Southend Labour


This Adventure Island noose around my neck has followed me from day one upon my entrance to local politics, but the truth is I grew up in a low-income household and I just wanted to give back. I thought my experience in local business would be useful, but from my first interview as a candidate for the local elections in the ward that I lived in, I found that was not the case.


I believe judgement was made on my background and I failed to beat a piece of paper for the seat. I did make it the year after having jumped through several hoops, and stood for Labour even though I had already fallen out of love with the party.


COVID


Covid changed everything. I may have ended up leaving eventually for reasons I explain later on, but it wouldn’t have happened so soon.


I had a big issue with the COVID passport Labour were looking to support unopposed, and I made fairly loud noises about it at the time.


I’d volunteered in Southend Hospital at the start of the pandemic, but over time I had too many unanswered questions. After I had been selected to run for the seat, I was told that if I didn’t remove a post that asked a question about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, I would be removed from standing.


I couldn’t believe the lack of democracy or free speech, and I couldn’t believe that a Labour advert stating ‘Let’s Vaccinate Britain’ was how policy was made. There was no conversation, just dictation. I swallowed it because I wanted to stand, but I knew I might not be able to help myself afterwards depending on what was to come next.


What came next was the COVID passport. They were talking about excluding people from society who were not comfortable to put something in their body that they were unsure of. I was never anti-vax, just pro-bodily autonomy. This policy was creeping up ever closer as the months went on, and don't get me wrong, it was the Tories that were driving this insanity and that is where the blame really lies, but Labour's blind support of anything the government were doing went against everything I thought Labour stood for. When the election was over, I couldn’t help but voice my concerns far more vociferously, which inevitably ended with my rejection to stand again the following year.


The day after, I started a new party.


It would represent respectful freedom of speech; real democracy; locally led decision-making; a positive internal culture of compassion, kindness, integrity and transparency; with idealistic ambitions undeterred by the barriers of practical realities.



The Toxic Culture


There were personalities in the local group that were just full of hatred. The vitriol between members was verbally violent to the point the internal chat group had to be shut down. There was no leadership and the culture was merciless. It could have been stopped but no attempts were made. Anyone who has joined the multi-party ‘Leigh on Sea Politics for Residents’ group, which I recently set up, will have a taste of what it was like!


Why the divide?


My view is Labour is a working class party set up to represent working class people. In this pursuit they have been successful and helped create a middle-class that no longer really needs them.


The working class still exists and needs representation, however, that’s not where the majority of votes are anymore.


To exist, Labour has had to abandon the working class, paying lip service where they can (look at why Angela Rayner is still in her position despite her personal financial controversies). Labour is essentially two parties that coexist badly: those that believe in the original soul of the party and those that believe you can only make change if you win power - which means adapting as required.


This is a war that will never end, but each side attempts to win it by banishing the other. This is what is happening now with Starmer. They are perfectly happy to see almost 200,000 members leave because they can conduct business easier that way. And this war has manifested itself all the way down to Southend Labour and into the hearts and minds of the members.


The Leadership Purge


Currently, there has been a purge in Southend Labour. Anyone who knows Aston Line, the Westborough Councillor and previous Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Southend West, will know what a decent and hard working guy he is. I may not agree with him on certain matters, but no one could question his good intentions - he was deselected from his council seat. As was Cllr Stephen George, a man who has spent his life serving Labour and honouring his father. A man who only recently served as Leader of the Council and Leader of the Southend Labour Group. I didn’t agree with some of his policies, but never did he deserve to be thrown off his seat in the manner in which he was.


Cllr George’s condemnation of current Southend Labour Leader Cllr Daniel Cowan was unequivocal: spiteful, coercive, bullying, egotistical, narcissistic and untruthful.


And then you have Cllr Tricia Cowdrey, Cllr Kathy Murphy and now former Councillor Kay Mitchell, who now all stand as either Independents or non-aligned. They have been brutally honest about their grievances towards Cllr Daniel Cowan making their own set of serious allegations.


And I have mine.


I have first-hand experience of the interesting ways in which Cllr Cowan operates.


I received a private message around a week ago stating that an Adventure Island staff member had said some negative things and I was essentially fortunate that he wasn’t going to publicise it ‘out of decency’ - the opposite of what I had done regarding my Cllr George blog.


Having requested on several occasions for the information in order to resolve the issues with the staff, it turns out he was trying to ‘hold up a mirror’ and teach me a lesson on how to stay silent.


I had asked him if he had made a similar approach to the Echo’s editor and journalist who ran the same story, but alas there was no answer. I had asked him whether this approach was standard protocol as a councillor or Leader of Southend Labour - funnily enough: silence.


All a bit unsavoury if you ask me!


On a lighter note: Fun Fact


If you think the Tory’s change in Prime Minister was frequent over the last few years, Southend Labour have actually had three leaders in the last three years!


What I can’t work out is how after winning power a few elections ago they were able to oust their leader almost immediately afterwards. Their system allows for this, and so we await if Cllr Cowan will go the same way. Personally, I doubt it. The purge has already happened and presumably, because he is the leader, most of the group would have had the Cowan stamp of approval.


The Southend Labour Plan


The facilitator of the Southend Labour manifesto workshop I attended years ago tried his best. But the exercise was really just a token effort. None of what we said went into the manifesto. In fact, the end result I could barely understand! It wasn’t real democracy as far as I judged it, but at least the outcome showed effort had been made.


The 5 point plan by Southend Labour outlined in their leaflets this year is pretty thin and more than a touch disingenuous.


They blame the Tories for breaking their fortnightly bin collection promise (fair), but it was they, themselves, who instigated fortnightly bin collections in the first place as they allowed fortnightly tenders.


They want to ‘attract more visitors to Southend’, but have launched their 6pm to 9pm parking charge punishment all along the seafront. This is off the back of them trying to charge us to park in our local parks last time they were in power!


They mention they will tackle potholes like the Tories invented them, but Southend Labour was in power for 4 years and if memory serves, there were plenty back then! It’s an ongoing issue that all parties will struggle with given the material used is clearly not fit for purpose.


They mention about reducing anti-social behaviour - sure: how?


This is not what I’d call a plan, but I was met with the same hostility of old, as I was tweeted a response that suggested I had a ‘brass-neck’ by Cllr Cowan being that our 68-point manifesto is just a set of ‘woolly statements’! Perhaps he is right - and the hundred or so residents who discussed, debated and voted for it over the last 2 years are wrong!


DNA


I wanted to support Labour and was ready to commit my time and energy, but I was in the wrong party the whole time - I just didn’t know it.



The truth is this organisation is fundamentally flawed in its DNA. There will never be a leader who can bring both sides together without losing the other half.


This is heightened in Southend and so the question is: how can we possibly expect an organisation that is so dysfunctional to run anything?


That is not to say the others are perfect - far from it. And nor are we for that matter; plenty of faults we are finding as we blindly navigate this political journey! However, in my opinion, this party at this time, will be catastrophic.


They have some great people in the party and many of their policies seem to be perfectly fine, but Southend will be in trouble. You only have to look at the £10m acquisition plus £4m repairs wasted on the half-full Victoria Shopping Centre; the £10m earmarked for the doomed Seaway project putting a cinema next to a cinema and a bowling alley next to a bowling alley; or the failure of the £575m forgotten Queensway development. That’s not forgetting they had plans to charge us to go to the toilet!


Who is going to do the best for Southend?


National Tories are broken, but the locals, not without fault, are seemingly well-run and have almost recovered Southend Labour’s £14m deficit (albeit it is accepted adult and child social care costs played a significant role). Granted, Leigh Town Council Tories seem in dire straits, but that has nothing to do with Southend Council.


The Independent Group are not actually independent as they keep crossing the floor depending on who will give them a cabinet position.


Greens and Lib Dems hard to tell. They just seem to prop up a rainbow coalition. Hopefully the Greens are not successful in negotiating any ULEZ or congestion charging as part of any pact.


Confelicity, well, we wouldn’t exist had Southend Labour been in any fit shape to lead.


Do we seek to replace Labour as a left-wing alternative?


We certainly have strong roots in protecting and supporting people; and in a brilliant education system that will see people fulfil their potential. We don’t mind paying a decent amount of tax as long as it is spent on building great public services, and that certain areas of public infrastructure should be publicly owned. We believe our green spaces should be protected and that over-development is causing fundamental issues regarding the services we receive. We have an acceptance that business creates jobs and pays for the taxes that fund the services we all want, and so politics must create an environment to allow this to thrive; but there ought not to be excessive remuneration for those at the top.


Whether this all makes us ‘left’ I don’t know, I’m not sure it matters. Our members are from across the political spectrum - from former Tory to former Green.


It works because we only really care about Southend as a whole - we’re just a Southend residents party, and it is Southend that drives all of our conversations, something I’d always thought Labour was there to do.


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Tris Bee
Tris Bee
Apr 12
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Hello James,

What an amazingly written article that must have taken quite some time to do!

Firstly might I just start by saying being the "small party" in local politics is always an uphill battle, but once established - they have one key advantage, they can put locals first rather than a one size fits all national manifesto that chains them like handcuffs during an S+M session, not reflecting local people's priorities.

And once the votes start coming in, the local guy's are almost impossible to shift.

Local parties are like the cute little fluffy things in the film Gremlins - it just takes one!

Having myself been the political membership slut of Southend, I too, as you know had…


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