Monday 7 January 2013

Crossing the Floor

News that Theressa Bowen has defected from Labour to join the ranks of Pam Palmer's "Independents" is not on the face of it much to get excited about, but there is something very odd about this particular move, and it tells us something about the peculiar nature of the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire as well as the official Independents who like to pretend that they are not actually a political party at all.

Defections by politicians from one party to another are nothing new, but they remain relatively rare events. Usually they come about after a long gestation of profound disagreements over policy or, rather less nobly, because the defector calculates that he or she has a better chance of being re-elected and appointed to a top job by joining a different party. Sometimes defections are triggered by personality clashes and tantrums.

Ms Bowen has quite a long and colourful history in the sometimes murky world of Llanelli politics. She ran a bitter and protracted vendetta against Meilyr Hughes who represented the two-member ward of Llwynhendy for Plaid Cymru, and finally unseated him in the local government elections in May last year as Labour in Llanelli surfed the national wave which brought the party back from the disastrous losses it suffered in 2008.

Ms Bowen has now been a county councillor for all of 7 months, an unusually short period of time for a defection. Even odder, although she has physically crossed the floor from the Labour to the Independent benches, the two parties are in coalition, so we can rule out long, simmering disagreements over policy issues as the reason for her move.

We can guess how Labour would react if the Independents put up Cllr Bowen for promotion to a job with a special responsibility allowance, so we can probably also rule that out as a motive.

Ms Bowen was known to be close to Labour's deputy leader, Tegwen Devichand, and various highly unsavoury accounts of what happened to cause the rift are circulating. What seems clear is that the Independents were quick to seize an opportunity to add to their ranks.

Whatever the truth, this is not a run of the mill defection, and it puts Labour and the Independents level pegging with 22 seats each. Pam Palmer, who was obviously less than ecstatic about the outcome of the election and having to play second fiddle to Kevin Madge, will now have her sights set on the role of council leader. We may even see the job of council leader turned into a revolving arrangement, with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee taking it in turns to run the council every alternate year.

As for Labour, the party needs to have a serious look at its candidate selection process. Not only was it clearly unable to attract people willing to stand in most parts of the county, but the candidates it did attract were, to put it mildly, a mixed bunch. Some, such as Shahid Hussein, fortunately never made it to County Hall, despite Kevin Madge's best efforts. Theressa Bowen did, and Labour now rues the day. Some others are little short of a disgrace to public office.

Labour's decent rank and file members and councillors must be asking themselves what their party has come to.

And as for the rest of us, the grubby goings-on in County Hall leave us wondering what the hell we have done to deserve this.


Anonymous said...

are you sur she's joined the independent group? the Labour Group haven't commented which leds me to think there may be more to it... independent independent is probably a better bet.

Cneifiwr said...

You may be right, although there are signs that the "official" Independents had a hand in this.

Ioan said...

"And as for the rest of us, the grubby goings-on in County Hall leave us wondering what the hell we have done to deserve this."

Voted for them??!

Anonymous said...

Having read this blog item and the next about press freedom I must admit if I were a county councillor, especially a Labour councillor I would be a little embarrased and disapointed.

Surely to join the Labour Party one must at least show a little leaning towards socialist policies. The arrangement between Labour and the Conservatives - oops sorry independents is bizarre in the extreme. the refusal to promote the living wage for low paid members of staff is also bizare. How the Labour members can reconcile their behaviour with supposed socialist principles is shamefull.

As regards allowing the highly paid CE to seemingly arrange the agenda by sending important NOMs to the executive board (thereby killing it off) is also bizaar.

To all councillors - grow a pair please. To Labour members (especially Llanelli) grow an even bigger pair - seize control, you have the numbers - you should have the will. Recent events in Llanelli prove a level of disatisfaction with the current council you have it in your power to take this council in a new, fairer and more socialist direction.

Anonymous said...

If Bowen joins the Official Independent Political Group then - as the Labour and Independent Political Groups will be of equal size - fully expect Pam Palmer to be Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council come the May AGM.

Don't forget the "coalition agreement" was only for 12 months (the first time in the history of post-election coalition-making under CCC that a coalition agreement has been for a year and not a full term).

The only salient point I would note is that Cllr. Bowen has been listed as an "Unaffiliated" member on the CCC web site so, after all, she might not have done the deal with the devil that is the Official Independent Political Party!