Consider then the case of Cllr Alan Dutton, the City Independents' newest recruit from the Labour benches. If you followed the to-ing and fro-ing of labour movement politics in Stoke-on-Trent this summer, you'd know that Alan was a prominent local campaigner for Jeremy Corbyn. If a phone bank was running, he'd be there. If there was a campaign selfie, his mug would be in it. A protest wouldn't be a protest without a Cllr Dutton cameo. This raised a few eyebrows in and out of the Corbyn campaign to say the least. Up until that point in his four year tenure as a councillor, Alan's socialist sympathies were very well hidden. Having sat through many Labour Group meetings as a CLP officer, I don't recall any displays of a lefty conscience as the group debated and decided upon the tens of millions of pounds of cuts forced on the City Council. He was also tight lipped about his socialism on the number of occasions he moaned about Ed Miliband and told anyone who would listen about his personal and political admiration for the Prince Over the Water.
What sparked the Damascene body swerve from dull-as-ditchwater David fandom to the loudest and proudest socialist the city has ever seen? As followers of Stoke politics know, Labour got slapped about in this year's local elections and lost overall control of the council. Seizing their opportunity, the City Independents formed a coalition with the Tories and UKIP (thereby breaking their election pledge not to form a coalition with anyone) and hey presto, we have a shambles more or less run by Stoke's diminutive Tory party. The fall-out in Labour saw the local leadership blamed for unpopular decisions taken during the last four years, and calls for Group Leader Mohammed Pervez to step down. A leadership contest was held post-election, which Pervez won easily. His challenger Cllr Ruth Rosenau and the aforementioned Cllr Dutton were dismayed at the result, public in their criticisms, and subsequently broke the group whip and voted for the confirmation of nominal Council Leader Dave Conway when it came before the first full council of the 2015-19 session. They were informed by the Group that disciplinary action would be taken against them, and a six month suspension was handed down to both.
In conclusion to her piece about the Labour Group's decision, Ruth wrote that "Alan and I will sit out our time". Alas, as we now know, Alan had other ideas. Yet I cannot but help note the coincidence of breaking party discipline and converting to the reddest of blood-red Corbynism. If you wanted to be cynical about it, chumming up with local Labour lefties he previously had little time for allowed him to plead his case among comrades who'd lend a sympathetic ear, while - hoping - his efforts for Jeremy would be recognised and the disciplinary reversed either from pressure among the huge pile of new recruits or from on high. Either way, by defecting to the City Independents he's abandoned his comrade to a very difficult position. Ruth was too kind to him in the statement she gave to The Sentinel. He's left her in the lurch.
Among the self-justifying waffle, he gives the game away with his opening line: "I'm a doer not a sitter, I cannot watch from the sidelines while others take decisions in Stoke-on-Trent." In other words, knowing his hope of a committee or cabinet position down the line was gone, he crossed the floor. But, of course, to somehow square this with the lately-aired socialist values, he wounds, wounds, the local party with this parting shot: "Dave Conway has more socialist values than most in the Labour group, as do the majority of the City Independents." Ouch.
Let us remind ourselves that their socialism has involved handing the two powerful regen and economic development portfolios to the Tories. Has delegated negotiations with Tory-run Staffs County Council about a combined authority to the Tories, because Council Leader Conway is more interested in street signage than how the city is governed. A socialism that involves drawing up plans to gut the city's SureStart centres, attack council workers' trade union organisations, and thinks a Staffordshire Hoard-themed tea set is a solution to the city's woes. Among the "socialists" he's elected to sit with, Alan finds an unrepetant ex-BNP councillor, a Lord Mayor who thinks she's royalty, another who goes on and on about the abolition of the NHS and social security, a woman who campaigned on a manifesto calling for the banning of cervical smears, and of course, a councillor with a conviction for possessing the most disgusting child sex abuse imagery.
It doesn't end there. If being in the City Indies wasn't bad enough, one of Alan's new colleagues is the charming Cllr Richard Broughan of UKIP. I've never met the man, though judging by his Twitter feed he seems like your typical 'kipper. Blame refugees for everything, moan about Islam, you know the drill. Dull. Boring. Backward. Then his Twitter feed turned this up:
I took the liberty of capping that in case Cllr Broughan gets itchy with the delete button. So, yes. Alan now sits with someone who thinks the deaths of 71 people, including four kids, is a laughing matter. That this void of a human being is part of Stoke's governing coalition shows just how desperately they grasped at power, and what they are prepared to tolerate to remain there.
Just prior to the local elections, I had sight of Alan's re-election literature. It was done up in Labour colours but could you find mention of the party on there? Only in the small print. That's because Alan has never really been a member of the Labour Party. For him, it's about the Alan Dutton Party, a party guided by one ism. Not socialism, no. It's opportunism.