Cllr Conway is going to announce that Stoke-on-Trent is exiting the EU early on its own terms.
I know councillors on the opposition benches have wondered about the absence of several City Independent representatives for some time. There are councillors who never collect their post, never respond to their emails, but mysteriously reappear for the full council meeting. After all, lack of appetite for work is never matched by a reluctance to draw one's allowance.
It is true some City Independent councillors aren't happy. They're fed up with their coalition Conservative partners hogging the media and getting positive Sentinel coverage for all the regeneration plans coming to fruition - plans put into place by Labour and opportunistically attacked by both parties when they were in opposition. While the Tories are getting the glory, they're the ones taking the flak for cuts to SureStart, the closure and demolition of Hanley's Crown Bank loos, and the £70-per-roll wallpaper debacle. It's almost as if the Tories contrived this to happen.
My understanding is last Autumn a number of councillors secretly met Dave Conway at Baddeley Green Working Men's Club angry at the division of responsibility at the council. After, what I've been told, was a "clearing of the air", from his capacious hard drive Cllr Lee Wanger produced a surprise document, a plan for Stoke's independent negotiations with the European Union. Titled Stoke's Bespoke Brexit, Cllr Wanger put it to the meeting that the City Independents can seize the political initiative in the city by sending its own delegation to Brussels to negotiate an EU exit separate from the UK government. Observing that two thirds of Stoke-on-Trent voters opted to leave, he not unreasonably suggested that by delivering Brexit for the city in time for the 2019 elections, the CIndies could sweep the board. Except probably not in Hanley Park and Shelton as, in the words of the 2015 Manifesto, only the "genuine people of Stoke-on-Trent" voted to leave.
The meeting appointed its negotiating team to deal with Donald Tusk and the Commission. It was felt Cllr Alan Dutton with his innumerable connections to the high born and well-placed, Cllr Jackie Barnes with her charisma and networking skills, and Cllr Wanger himself would go. They also had the power to co-opt members to the delegation as they saw fit, which accounts for several absences. Well, for the last six months at least. Of the terms, it was my understanding their only red line was the power to control Stoke's borders to prevent the outside world from coming in and, of course, anyone ever leaving.
I can only assume that Cllr Conway is going to announce the result of Stoke's exit negotiations today. Having caught sight of his words, I can exclusively reveal that his statement is going to go big on the Brexit dividend. While the Leave campaign made play of the £350m a week we could spend on the NHS, the CIndies in what I can only describe as a politburo meeting without the Tories present have earmarked funds for a package tour of Stoke (replete with North Korean-style "guides") and the Staffordshire Hoard tea set. There was some debate whether monies could be put toward the tram system, but in a rare display of, well, speaking, Cllr Sabrina Bowers emphasised the need for "quick wins". After all, manifesto promises are manifesto promises.
What the Tories are going to think of their cheeky, sneaky coalition partners is anyone's guess. They had them down for fools and incompetents, and yet as they gazed upon the photo of Margaret Thatcher hanging in Cllr Jack Brereton's office and imagined themselves the kings of the hill, the CIndies are about to severely, and irreversibly upstage them.
It's going to be an interesting press conference!