The Battle For Leader
One of the interesting things about being a local Conservative, but never having been a District Councillor, is that I can take a view about things going on at Fenland District Council in a detached way that many of my colleagues cannot. So it is with some fascination that I watch the Local Media and other pundits trying to guess the outcome – and the politics – going on as the Conservative group at Fenland District Council goes about deciding who its new leader will be.
The following piece is nothing more than my personal musing and as such is probably of no interest to anybody. But I’m putting it down anyway just in case there are other folk out there interested in the ramblings of a local activist with no “skin in the game” as it were. In other words, the outcome has no political effect on me whatsoever. My view is therefore completely neutral – well as much as it can be when you are talking about a group of long-time colleagues and friends who you have respect for and know quite well.
So far the candidates that I’ve heard seriously suggested are; John Clark, David Connor, Chris Seaton, Simon King and Jan French. Maybe there are more that haven’t surfaced yet, but presently that seems to be the possible options. The Wisbech Standard has John Clark as the favourite, with Chris Seaton and Jan French very close behind. The odds on David Conner are longer and the odds on Simon King were silly.
In truth, the Wisbech Standard probably isn’t far off on its guesses, though perhaps not for the reasons it suggests. First we probably need to rule out Simon King and David Connor. Both thoroughly good eggs and solid Councillors who I have no doubt would be very interesting leaders, but neither likely to be able to command the popular support required from other Councillors to win what is probably going to be a serious battle. At least not right now.
This leaves the players as Jan French, John Clark and Chris Seaton. It’s unclear if Jan is standing or not – the rumour keeps changing. One minute she is definitely standing, the next she is supporting Chris Seaton, then she’s standing again. I don’t know what the truth is. But I do think Jan French is a very capable, eloquent and intelligent lady and I think Fenland District Council under her leadership would be a dynamic and forthright Council.
But the truth is that most people think this battle is between Seaton & Clark. They are probably right. Jan French could potentially be a “kingmaker” here and if her decision to back Chris Seaton is true then that would appear to make him the favourite. But it’s not quite as simple as that.
Fenland District Council’s Conservative group know one another very well and are a strong team – but as with all teams there are factions, albeit friendly ones. It’s fair to say that the group splits along the Meltonites and non-Meltonites, if you’ll excuse the term. Alan Melton has faced a number of crises in his time as Leader and a number of challenges to his Leadership. This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, by the way. Leaders often face challenge as newcomers arrive and being able to meet such challenges is part and parcel of the democratic system. Debate, challenge, scrutiny, competition – these are all healthy indicators in any good Council.
So if the battle is between Chris Seaton and John Clark, then its fair to characterise it as a battle between the Meltonites and the non-Meltonites. Chris Seaton was Deputy Leader for a long time and very much Alan Melton’s “right hand man.” He has worked with the current cabinet for a long time and they are a tight-knit and friendly team. I have no way of knowing what sort of leader Chris Seaton would be – though I have no doubt he’d be a good one. But I think most would agree that he is considered the “continuity Melton” candidate in that he would keep a lot of the Cabinet the same, not rock too many boats, and strive to be a “safe pair of hands,” a steady guide through a turbulent year. This means that his support derives from the “steady as she goes” crowd and from the Meltonites, which perhaps includes those existing Cabinet Members who think “If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it.”
John Clark, on the other hand, is definitely the head of the non-Meltonites. It’s not a secret as John’s bust-up with the Leadership was plastered all over the newspapers last year. Since then he’s been a quiet but steady rebel voice from the back benches. This means that most would expect him to make fairly significant changes to the Cabinet and possibly to the structure and goals of the whole Council. He draws his support from those who think things have gone awry and that significant change is needed, or have joined past challenges to Alan Melton as leader, or who just want to try something completely different.
Frankly – I think this is win win for Fenland. Both Chris Seaton and John Clark are experienced, intelligent and competent leaders. They both have track records in senior roles, they are both respected and have strong support. For that matter, Jan French has all these things also, and is a quiet stalking horse who could still surprise everybody. I cannot possibly speculate on who the ultimate winner might be. I think it’s presently too close to call, but a lot will depend on what policies and ideas those two candidates put to the group when they make their pitch to become the new leader. And a lot depends on what some of the other Fenland District Councillors, particularly those who are influential amongst their peers, are saying to one another.
For most people the whole thing is probably boring and will pass by without interest and everything will continue to tick along nicely much as it always does. But for political nerds like myself who find the personal dynamics and “small politics” of things like this interesting, this is a time of great anticipation. I think we have a great raft of candidates and I have every confidence that my friends and colleagues on the FDC Conservative Group will pick wisely. But I can’t wait to see who they do pick!