JOHN DICKIE COLUMN: Elected must stay close to electorate

South West Norfolk have an unusual MP. Her name is Liz Truss and she may have been a Prime Minister.

Some time ago she had a bit of a rammy with members of her rural party’s grumpy members. Memorably she called them the ‘Turnip Taliban’. Then they appeared to vanish from view like the sea mists over the Norfolk coast.

However, I think I have found to where they have migrated – you’ll find the bucolic rural herd of political dinosaurs occupying the Tory benches of West Northampton Council.

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Hardly a day goes by without WNC being in the eye of a storm and finding itself accused of yet another blunder. That of course might be perceived as the natural state of local government.

I think that is a great misfortune as local government should be the level most people encounter government. Have you ever met your local MP – or even know his name?

Northampton’s historic problem has been the frequent mucking about with its function and role. For decades the town was a free standing borough – a county borough no less. Folk identified with their local councillor for good or ill, and most elected members were elected by their neighbours and slung out when they got things wrong.

Then central government decided re-organisation was needed, generally for party political reasons. In the early 1970s it was decided Northampton was unable to provide its citizens with all the services they needed, so the two-tier model of local government emerged. We got a borough council with fewer responsibilities and an overweening county council. We all know how successful Northants County Council turned out to be.

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If all my years hanging about in our stunningly beautiful Guildhall taught me anything, it is that local government only works when the elected are close to the electorate. Of course they sometimes get things wrong – I did several times, glaringly I criticised the building of the Derngate. That was a bloody stupid position to take and two leading Tory councillors, the late Cyril Benton and the late Alwyn Hargrave, were right.

People will tell me we are where we are, possibly the most inane phrase in the opinion formers’ lexicon. But where we are is a dreadful place. Serious mismanagement on the county council (and may I remind you most of their members represented rural areas of the county and their knowledge of the town extended to the cattle market and Wellington Boot emporium on Bridge Street).

Central government, seeing the chaos the county was in, sent in a commissioner who thought the best solution was to draw an arbitrary line across the county and create two mini-counties.

The once proud county borough of Northampton (once capital of some of England) is now the biggest parish council in the country.

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The final humiliation, hot on the heels of the desecration of our Market Square and the punishment exile of our market traders, is that the rural barbarians want to evict what remains of our town identity from our Guildhall.

They will no doubt seek to put it in one of the imported Italian garden sheds currently being foisted on the Market Square in a remote corner of Westbridge Depot (if WNC still own that).

The Guildhall is a public building and it belongs to the people of the town. Apart from being one of the few significant buildings it has been centre to the identity of Northampton for more than 100 years.

While writing this piece I understand WNC’s reason for evicting Northampton Town Council from the Guildhall is that the town council is a ‘new’ council and therefore not entitled to the Guildhall. Are the mountebanks saying that? Do they seriously belive that an artificial construct called WNC is the continuity council of what went before?