The heyday of Southend on Sea was in the 19th century, with day trippers and weekend holiday makers fuelling the local economy. Since then its fortunes have declined. Despite being commuter distance from London the town has many of the issues of large costal communities. Politically it has two Conservative MPs but a progressive alliance runs the council.
A clear example of how times change and missed opportunities sits on the famous sea front. Southend-on-Sea boasted the world’s first amusement park, the Kursaal, which predated the more famous Coney Island in New York. As the nature of the seaside holiday changed, so did the fortunes of the Kursaal, which fell into decline in the 1970s. The majority of the land which held its rides was sold off for housing, creating two estates. Neither prospered.
The credit card company, Access, was based in Southend, running from several offices. When it was discontinued in the 1990s other banks, including HSBC, initially based their credit card call centres in the city. And then globalisation pulled those jobs overseas.
The new century has been more of the same.
Southend’s new City status
Southend on Sea gained its city status in tragic circumstances when David Amess MP was murdered at a constituency surgery on 15 August 2021. In recognition of his constant campaigning for it, the government confirmed that in tribute to Sir David, Southend-on-Sea would become a city.
Despite the status change, in terms of its infrastructure and funding, it remains a town, going through its own growing pains. A number of key projects seem as stuck in limbo as the boots of a bait digger ankle deep in mud at low tide.
One plan is for Southend United Football Club, which is still awaiting its new stadium, first conceived last century when the team was in the third division; now, however, it is not even in the national leagues, and the existing stadium is up for sale for redevelopment of high rise social housing. Another is a proposed seafront development, also for housing. With a rise in population of 4% since the 2011 census, Southend certainly needs more housing.
Politically, though, it is a village.
A mixed history
The local elections take place on 4 May. It is a partial election with seventeen of the fifty one seats making up the Council, being contested. At least two of the major political parties will be represented in the elections for the seventeen wards of Southend on Sea City Council and the four wards of Leigh Town Council. Leigh Town Council is a first tier council designed to improve the quality of life for residents of Leigh-on-Sea via their local council tax precept.
Since 2019 Southend Council has had no one party in overall control, but power has been shared by a coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Independents. Prior to that the Conservatives were in charge from 2017 to 2019; from 2014 to 2017 there was no overall control.
It is this finely balanced political melting pot that has seen the growth in power of the Independent Group which has, over time, made the difference between a larger party being either in coalition or in opposition.
Who is standing in Leigh-on-Sea?
- Conservative party, 7 candidates
- Independents, 2 candidates
- 1 candidate is described as “totally Independent”
- 1 candidate is described as “non-party”, and
- 2 candidates have no descriptions at all on the election notice.
What is telling is the need for an “independent” candidate to be “totally Independent” or “non-party”, or for their description to be blank, rather than be “confused” with the established Independent group.
Who is standing in Southend-on-Sea?
- Conservative party, 17 candidates
- Green party, 17 candidates
- The newly formed Confelicity party, 17 candidates
- Liberal Democrats, 16 candidates
- Labour party, 13 candidates
- Labour and Co-operative party, 4 candidates
- 4 candidates identify as Independent
- Heritage party, 2 candidates
- 2 candidates have no description on their election notice
- British Democrats, 1 candidate
- Psychedelic Movement, 1 candidate
Who are they all?
The Heritage party is contesting Milton and Kursaal. These two wards have a higher level of deprivation than most in England. The British Democrats are also contesting Kursaal. Both are national parties, while the “Psychedelic Movement”, established in 2021, is based in Southend and is contesting the ward of Leigh which is, in comparison, more affluent.
The two candidates with no description next to their names are Stephen Aylen, who is contesting Belfairs ward, and Ronald Woodley, who is contesting Thorpe ward. Mr Aylen is a former independent councillor, as is Mr Woodley. Woodley was once the deputy leader of the council, and left the independent association after it voted to join an administration he felt was “too left-leaning”.
The most interesting development for this election, however, is the emergence of the Confelicity party. The word ‘confelicity’ means to take pleasure in another’s happiness. The party is registered in Southend and is led by James Miller. Mr Miller is a director of Stockvale group of companies, which include Adventure Island, Sealife Adventure, and Radio Essex.
You pays your money…
While that point can be debated, the fact remains that the residents of Southend-on-Sea do have a wide range of candidates and views to chose from. From independent Independents to established parties, from new parties to the established old guard, from those on the right to those on the left, all tastes seem to be catered for.
Perhaps no more than you would expect from a popular seaside holiday destination.