Saturday, 18 October 2014

Some idle thoughts on the Freedom of Northampton

Out of the blue, quite literally,came the offer from the Leader of the Council of the Freedom of Northampton.
What was more surprising was that I'm part of a triumvirate along with Keith barwell and Brian Bnley.What an opportunity to observe that staid old Northampton is honouring a onetime teenage Trotskyite,a onetime teenage Maoist and a onetime Co-op Bank clerk!
Such curious juxtapositions  come along very rarely and it's time to savour the incongruity of the event.

It is strange to be honoured by a Tory led Council, withy support from the labour party that quite rightly expelled me almost a decade ago.
I was nominated once before by the Labour party,when we were all lovey-dovey kissing comrades.That proposal was scuttled by the high minded Liberal Democrats who had no time for such expensive fripperies-although strangely they were no averse to the far more expensive frippery of the Mayoralty-especially when one of their own was getting the old fox fur round the shoulders.
I've been asked what you get with the 'Freedom' and why.Well simply I guess you get a scroll,maybe a wee box to put it in and a slug of NBC hand trodden red wine from the vineyards of sultry Duston.
I have told Marie that the box may come in handy to store my ashes-when of course I've finally fallen off my perch.
Our friend Bianca suggested that the box would not be big enough for my ashes-the lack of gravitas and respect the young now display.
Otherwise it is purely ceremonial, but for me its not about the ceremony and the stuff that surrounds that,any more than for years Councillors wear robes for the annual council meeting and other civic events.
As a young Councillor I railed at the archaic nature of robes and all that appeared to go with it,until it was gently pointed out to me that it was Labour Councillors almost 100 years ago who argued for robes because they created at least for a short time,the impression of equality in the Council chamber.
In the same way I used to chafe at school uniforms until it was pointed out to me that it was an egalitarian measure designed to ensure that wealthy children couldn't flaunt their wealth in front of poorer kids.
A good principle although in practice the absurd nature of school uniforms back in my day meant expensive and impractical outfits.But that's another story.

What in the end I think is that events like the 'freedom' are harmless sideshows,but serve to remind people that we still have local government.
Every national party goes on about localism as if it is the holy grail of political well-being, yet for decades we have seen the relentless strengthening of power at the centre at the expense of the locality.
I was first elected in 1973,and then we were seeing the start of the rapid decline of locally elected councils.1974 saw the restructuring of local government when places like Northampton lost County Borough status and were subsumed upwards into the County Council.
Now there are clearly siome services that benefit from a larger organisation,like policing,fire,and even education.But other serices sit better together-housing and social services,highway building and maintainance,refuse collection, parks and the like.
The princple should always be the closer the service is to the users who pay for it,the more likely it is to be successful.
But as powers disappeared,so did responsibility.When I first joined NBC we used to decide our rent levels,bus fares,how much we needed to raise for capital projects,and we had to justify what we were doing-not to faceless government apparatchiks in Whitehall,but to our own local electorate.
What I'm arguing for is strangely not far away from my last few posts abour independence in Scotland.
Local government badly needs independence from central government.
It is likely that over the coming weeks I will be questioned about my achievements whistle on council-I'm not sure I can answer that because it was always a team effort and that is really for others to judge.
However I do know my biggest failure, and that was the failure to win the battle of unitary Northampton.Elsewhere I have explained how that failure happened,but just as Scottish Independent will return like the swallows,so the case for a unitary Northampton will soon be back on the agenda.,