Sunday, January 18, 2009

It looks like it could be 1640 all over again at Castle Circus...

After years of brewing tension the battle lines are at long last drawn, long time loyal friends find themselves on opposing sides to fight for the constitutional settlement they passionately believe is essential for the citizenry.

On the one hand the Cavaliers – romantic royalists determined to preserve the traditional way of doing things, they want our civic leadership pre-determined by divine right; ascending to the chair swaddled in robes and swathed in a lavish tradition of pomp and spectre to wow the tourists and enrich the public. On the other side we have the Roundheads, determined to cast to the winds the ceremony and tradition of old; to give power to all the people – abandoning all that went before and running government full of hair shirt humility and 21st century economy.

I am of course talking about the growing controversy surrounding the role and status of Torbay councils’ Chairman.

In 2005 when we decided to switch to a directly elected mayor the local council constitution that had evolved in the previous century became immediately obsolete, the traditional role of Mayor was to chair council meetings and ‘represent’ the town at civic functions. Usually the job was given by councillors to their longest-serving member on a ‘Buggins turn’ basis; over the years the keys and seals of the town grew into chains of office, and elaborate robes which, it has to be said, those who are chosen revel in wearing. The Mayor was, like the leader of the council, chosen behind closed doors by councillors with no direct say from the public.

When the mayoral system came in it was clear that the role of Mayor would become a much more hands-on executive role, and as a result there was a need for a new post – Chairman, someone to act as the speaker of the house and moderate debates. It was decided that the ceremonial duties of the old Mayor would pass to the Chairman instead of –as happens in other countries- the elected Mayor doing all of it.

This slightly uneasy compromise has operated ever since, but recently cracks have appeared as some on the ‘Royalist’ side have been agitating over such matters as who should host the annual Civic Ball, held every February, now that this years Civic Chairman Michael Hytche is not well enough, and over the budget for the Chairman which some modernisers want to do away with or substantially cut.
Like all trivial arguments this one is a proxy fight for a much bigger issue - just who is in charge of Torbay Council?
To you and me the answer is as obvious as it is legally incontrovertible - it's the man elected by you and I in 2005 to serve until 2011.
But a few people on all sides of the political divide wish that it wasn't. A few people who didn't want the directly elected mayoral system in the first place believe that any change to the old way of doing things is an unconstitutional power grab by that most insolent of outsiders - a politician elected by the people.
It took 300 years for the constitution at Westminster to evolve, our own council has been writing it's rules for 150 years whereas the new mayoral system has been in place for a little over 40 months.
So I suppose we just have to give it time....

1 comment:

The Preston Poet says said...

We have Chairman Hytche and chief executive Raikes,

There is upset about his big Jag, and what salary she takes.

When all along we have our very own Torbay Queen.

To spend all this is really just obscene.

I think rather than swords and maces,'s handbags at twenty paces.