Wednesday, 9 April 2014

No longer the town’s council... we are the council’s town

AS the last witch trial in Dorset was held 314 years ago during the reign of William III, you can imagine my surprise to see Lyme Regis Town Council reviving the practice in The Guildhall last Wednesday.

Merrily we had gone along to bear witness to the ancient custom of mayor-mongering, the selection of a First Citizen for this old and honoured town. Avidly we looked forward to the traditional rite when councillors, without venal favour or political agenda, would choose fairly from this year’s popular contenders, the winsome Mayor-in-office Sally Holman and the fetchingly-feisty Michaela Ellis.

Like all good citizens of the Regis, we expected a game and dignified debate which would end with the crowning of a new mayor and much rejoicing in the town.

Instead, we were horrified to watch Michaela put to the stake to plead a desperate case for the importance of rules as, around her, panicking councillors booed and jeered like frightened peasants in a Hammer horror film and, once again, our bitching town council demonstrated that the most glaring example of “Lyme Backward” is their rows.

And yet it all looked like the perfect plan. The word was of The Gun Cliff Pact, that Sally was expected to walk away from the evening still in possession of the mayor’s daft hat because her not-previously-known-to-be allies, the Leftist Gang of Five, had oddly decided to ditch a long-held plan to get the mayorship for one of their own, Chris Clipson, and would switch their support to Sally instead, thus ensuring her fourth reign on the trot.

Like Siamese quins, the block-voting Gang are joined at the hip, lip and whip on key council matters but it was not clear why they were shifting their weight to Sally’s side. Were they afraid of Michaela, by Lyme birth a redoubtable Emmett, one of the town’s least push-over families? Had Sally been spied reading “Das Kapital” whilst out sailing? 

Or had the Gang, like Sally, all fans of Lyme Regis Development Trust, decided that as the trust’s work had shrivelled to the extent that its chief executive now only does shifts one day a week, Lyme is no longer being Forward? Had some other, actual but hidden, power rattled the council cage? There are, after all, grandees in the hills who disapprove of torpor.
Who knows? Perhaps Sally had simply won the Gang’s support in a darts game at The Nag’s Head. 

Anyway, all looked to be going to plan; augmented by the new signings of the mayor, deputy mayor and Lorna Jenkin, the Gang of Five was clearly going to mutate into the Knot of Eight and Sally was twinkling. 

But so was Michaela, bouncy even.

The nominations were proposed and seconded but just as the councillors were about to vote, Michaela cast her curse... Err, sorry to be a party pooper but it says in the rules that no mayor can rule for three terms, not if somebody else wants a crack at the daft hat.

'We were horrified to watch Michaela 
put to the stake to plead a desperate 
case for the importance of rules as 
councillors booed and jeered.'

Bang! Michaela may just as well have turned the town clerk into a frog. 

You can’t do that! What rules? What black magic is this? Pointy finger, waving paper, much leaping to feet...

Well it says here that in 1979 the council made this rule.

1979! The world didn’t exist in 1979! None of us had even moved to the town!

Yes, I’m really sorry but the rules say... look, I’ve written it down.

This is the Devil’s hand! Smite her! Burn the witch! Howl and grumble, seethe, seethe, fetch a torch! 

But the rules….

Rules! Do not talk to us of rules! We make our own rules! Smite her! Howl, howl. Break her broom.

Sally had gone white.

As the Knot went up and down like a Mexican wave with livid objections to this honest threat to the artful plan, further fury was ignited as Stan Williams and George Symonds tossed in warnings of the possible illegality of not abiding by the rules. 

More demons! The witch has summoned Belial and Beezelbub! Horror, horror. Somebody call an exorcist. Town clerk, fetch garlic, hammer and a pointed stake!

And then, in a display of puerile petulance the like of which I’d not seen since games of King of the Castle at the old junior school, the Knot decided, Well then, ya, boo, sucks, we’ll just change the rules. See how you like that!

And they did. They just mass-voted a rule change to suit their own agenda. 

Never mind “no mayor serving more than two terms”, now a mayor can reign for the rest of eternity. 

In fact, why don’t we just re-name the town Lyme Mayorus, as not since Vladimir Putin changed the terms of the Russian presidency has anybody seen such a thing as this malarkey.

George Symonds stormed out, people in the public gallery yelled “resign” and “stand down” at the Knot. Stan hollered “it’s selfish” and was himself shouted at by the mayor to “Be quiet! You’re out of order!” It was ugly.

As I left the meeting, shortly before Michaela herself stormed out, saying “I’m bloody fuming”, and shaken members of the public stood around outside saying things like “shocking”, “disgusting” and “a new low”, I realised a sad truth in this new “we’ll rule as we please” behaviour – they are no longer the town’s council, we are now the council’s town.

It will be interesting to see how many of the Knot of Eight attend the annual town meeting at the Woodmead Halls on Friday to defend this grave new world to their serfs. 

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