There was a short farting sound like the voice of water down the plughole – and the shallow and smelly puddle at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Janke.”
With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe
“The disease of the lady had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis.”
At least two years after her sell-by date and the Bristol Lib Dems have finally given their leader, Barbara Janke, the heave-ho in the wake of a not very good night at the elections. The Clifton-based political hobbyist – funded with hubby’s cash from dodgy arms dealers BAE – should have gone over two years ago after her appalling and duplicitous display over the John Astley affair.
However, the Bristol Lib Dems – not exactly kitted with the keenest of political antennae – stuck with Janke at the behest, it seems, of their national party management who always found the snobby – “call me madam” – cow from Surrey far more of an attractive proposition than the people of Bristol ever did.
The decision to ditch Janke appears to be a panic measure from the Lib Dems. They have not so much woken up to Janke’s incredible levels of personal unpopularity in the city due to her snooty, unapproachable Clifton attitude and her policy-free management style of politics as realised their seats are now in danger and are trying to save their own skins. Hardly the stuff of considered decision making.
They may have also been unimpressed with Janke’s completely bonkers performance on Thursday night where she insisted to the press, despite another obvious meltdown in her party’s vote, that: “It was a good night for the Liberal Democrats.”
Hardly. The sums are simple. A 27 per cent share of the vote on a less than 40 percent turnout when only two-thirds of the city can vote means Janke’s crappy little administration got the thumbs-up from around 7 per cent of the electorate. That’s not a good night and it is no endorsement in any sense whatsoever of the Lib Dems.
The upward trajectory of the Janke’s Lib Dems throughout this decade actually came to an abrupt halt in 2005 when they finally became the largest party at the Council House and assumed minority control of the city. Janke – already considerably damaged in the eyes of the public by her non-denial denial of her knowledge of John Astley’s actions – then proceeded to run the city by continuing to implement the same Labour policies the electorate had rejected wholesale.
In the absence of a clearly articulated Lib Dem vision for the city or any policies beyond warmed-over New Labour crap, over a fifth of their voters have now deserted the Lib Dems in two years. And not for the Tories or Labour.
The section of the Lib Dem electorate seeking genuine change in the city has been embracing the Greens, occasionally Respect and in the case of Whitchurch Park – the BNP. The virtually direct switch of over 400 voters from the Lib Dems to the BNP in Whitchurch Park tells you all you need to know about the desire for an alternative in Bristol and Janke’s failings in providing it.
Janke – following a Bristol Lib Dem Saturday afternoon of the long knives – is succeeded by a couple of ambitious rookies – Steve Comer as leader and Dr Jon Rogers as his deputy. Both were elected to the council just two years ago for the first time and Rogers has not even chaired a committee let alone held a cabinet post.
The Blogger has already reported on political chameleon Comer. By day he’s a supporter of a far-left, socialist section of his union – the PCS – raging against privatisation; by night he comes to the Council House and promotes Thatcherite/Blairite/Orange Book – whatever you wanna call these public asset strippers infesting local government – privatisation policies.
Rogers, meanwhile, insofar as he has any politics at all, is an instinctive nanny-state Blairite control freak. He basically believes that if everyone would do exactly as upper-middle class liberal professionals such as himself command then the world would be a grand place indeed. This snooty arrogance might play well with the senior social workers and charity managers of his Montpelier ward but it is unlikely to go down very well elsewhere (except maybe Southville?).
The ousting of Janke and the selection of these two has all the hallmarks of panic and disarray. Comer’s brief statements to the press provide no evidence of any serious sea change in Lib Dem thinking at all.
He has said “I look forward to building on the work that Barbara Janke has done over the past 10 years as leader. Liberal Democrats have started to turn around council services in Bristol and I hope to have the opportunity to serve my home city of Bristol.”
This sounds appalling like a “business as usual” statement from the Lib Dems. The strategy seems to be “deckchairs on The Titanic” – pursuing the same failed and unpopular policies under new – equally uncharismatic and policy-free – leadership. If so, the Lib Dems are doomed.
However we shall have to wait until 18 May when the new administration is confirmed to see the real outline of Comer’s Lib Dems. Will he perform a personally tricky u-turn on home care? Will he decline to run a minority administration? Will he and Rogers put a coherent and original Lib Dem package of policies together for the city?
Or will ambition and ego rule the day with Comer and Rogers ploughing on to disaster in the dismal Janke-style?
COMING SOON: More election aftermaths…
“They’re like the political wing of the Bristol Rotary Club” – Eddy’s bellyflopping Tories.
“Are they just a cheap coat of greenwash over the centre right Bristol consensus?” – Bolton’s flailing Greens.
“Labour revival? Ha, ha, ha” – Holland’s Labour luvvies