COMMENT: The day democracy died in Horsham

JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin

Some years ago, when a town tax was being proposed for the unparished parts of Horsham, one Tory councillor defied colleagues and convention and spoke out with passion against the proposal.

The County Times dubbed him ‘The People’s Champion’ because he had the courage to represent his constituents’ views rather than toe the party line.

Since then, Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) has run into various scrapes with the all-powerful Conservative Party which often gives the impression that free speech is to be welcomed by its councillors - provided it accords with its view.

On every occasion, this newspaper has robustly and unashamedly defended Mr Mitchell - no matter how difficult and inconvenient his Tory private members’ club might find him.

We care nothing for petty party politics in our council chamber. We want councillors who speak with conviction on behalf of those they represent.

Tonight, after months of risking every vestige of any political career by opposing massive development in North Horsham - Mr Mitchell would be a great MP for Horsham if his selfless sense of public service and honesty didn’t get in the way - his party inflicted its latest spiteful snub.

It stripped him of his chairman elect status.

The real decision would have been taken earlier in the week in a private little meeting of his Tory colleagues. According to excellent councillor Peter Burgess - who also puts honesty before party politics - once decided everyone was then silenced with a three-line party whip.

Mr Mitchell’s fate was sealed.

Although it is unprecedented for the vice chairman not to become the next chairman - he was unceremoniously ditched.

The Tory group - with its strong South Downs contingent - is determined to dump the Government’s hated development requirements all over North Horsham whether local people want it or not.

Anyone who stands in the way of their Hobson’s Choice proposal is doomed.

No doubt Mr Mitchell could have appeased his colleagues had he felt so inclined. But he is not one to bend on matters of principle.

Never mind, he is well out of this chairman’s role - a dated piece of political pomposity which has no place in a modern democracy anyway. Only this week we reported that the council had spent £3,500 of your money on baubles for previous incumbents. What a waste of money.

What is clear, after tonight’s debacle, is even if the local housing plan is railroaded through it does not command the confidence of the people of Horsham town.

The document is dead in any real sense.

And so is free speech and democracy.