LETTER: Dark shadow over 40 year record

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As a founding member of Horsham District Council, I listened with horror to my Roundabout Talking Newspaper which reports Horsham news in the West Sussex County Times and was disgusted by the report of the treatment of Councillor Mitchell.

In 1971, many of us were engaged for long periods in opposing the recommendations of Lord Redcliffe Maude’s commission on local government reform.

His suggestion was that West Sussex County Council should become a unitary authority and Horsham would then have ended up with a town council with little more power than a parish council. Did we waste our time?

Meeting followed meeting. Rural district councils, urban district councils and area parish councils united to form our opposition to the proposals.

I was lucky to be between jobs and was able to devote three whole days to reading the two heavy volumes containing the report. I still remember well the meeting in the Council Chamber at Chanctonbury Rural District Council with parish councils and county council well represented.

I personally made a strong attack on Lord Redcliffe Maude which was resented by one county councillor.

Late in 1971, or early 1972, Geoffrey Matthews, clerk to Chanctonbury Rural District Council called me into his office to show me a copy of the Local Government Chronicle which printed an interview with Lord Redcliffe Maude.

The first question was, ‘Of all the things said about your report which thing did you find most hurtful?’

His reply was, ‘The councillor who described the report as the greatest threat to democracy since Adolf Hitler’. I am proud to admit that that was how I saw it.

The treatment of Councillor Mitchell cannot be described as Adolf Hitler democracy as he would have been shot by now.

However, it could be described as treatment by the politburo and though he hasn’t been sent to the snow and ice of Siberia it appears he has been frozen out of a full role in council proceedings.

I believe that the the problem has been caused by Blair’s so-called reforms of local government. What is a local district council doing with three-line whips and cabinet rule? All councillors should have equal rights to speak on any subject.

I refer to Voltaire: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.

Abraham Lincoln also famously said that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. That is democracy.

I remember Len Sanford said on a number of occasions, ‘The people of Beeding, Bramber and Steyning know full well that I am a worker for the Conservative Party at national elections but when I enter the Council Chamber I do so to represent the people who elected me and not a political party’.

I was pleased to hear that the Editor of the West Sussex County Times was supporting Councillor Mitchell which in many ways is in keeping with the memory of Jimmie Armour-Milne, chief reporter at the time of the Maude report, and who played a tremendous part in publicising our efforts.

The council’s annual meeting in May this year should have been a celebration of 40 years’ work of the council.

Instead a dark shadow will descend over the proceedings as this objectionable item is approved.

DEREK EMSLEY

Manse Road, Kingussie, Inverness-shire