Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Will Oxford get Tory Councillors by the back door?

As anyone at all conversant with the politics of Oxford can tell you, this city is one of Britain’s many Tory-free zones. The Conservative party repeatedly poll fourth across Oxford. This leaves us with a County Council which is run by a party which has no representation at any level in the capital of the shire it claims to represent. But might that be about to change?

Of course, I’m not imagining that the Conservatives are going to storm to victory in the good clean fight of an election. We don’t have elections here this May. And recent by-elections haven’t shown any improvement in the Tories’ performance – quite the opposite: all the more effort they put in, the lower their vote goes. This is much to the chagrin of the Leader of the County, the councillor known as Kaiser Keith. He’s an intelligent, amiable but incorrigibly unreconstructed Tory: the sort of person who thinks that Jeremy Clarkson is a real man, and who imagines wearing a pound sign in his lapel will be some sort of talisman against progress.

Kaiser Keith is acutely aware of the perceived injustice of rural Conservatives lording it over a Tory-free city. And if he can’t change the electors, perhaps he’ll have more luck with those who’ve been elected. For there are rumours flying that there may be at least one city councillor willing to defect to Mr Cameron’s party.

Since last May, there has been one Independent councillor, a former LibDem. It is apparently an open secret that he has been in talks with Kaiser K. The rumours seem to be even more persistent than those of a few years ago which had it that the same councillor was about to defect to either Labour or the Greens. Those predictions came to nothing then and perhaps the same is the case now. After all, the Leader of the County might shrewdly have calculated that getting a lone councillor on the City is not much of a coup.

But, that one Independent is now a group: he has been joined by a councillor I genuinely like and respect. And, within weeks (and just before I left the country last month), the two Independents have been photographed giving the Leader and Deputy of the County a tour of part of the city-centre. Personally, I’m surprised that Keith needed the introduction and I wonder how long it will be before he asks to get to know the other 95% of the city. But, let’s not be churlish: it’s brave of him even to hint at such a political romance in public. The question now is: will this apparent flirtation actually be consummated? Will Oxford’s smallest political group rush to offer up the cherished cherry of their Independence? Or, considering the Tories’ poor reputation, will they not don the blue rosette until after the next elections that they have to fight?

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