Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Mayor making and leadership in local government

Last night was the 34th annual meeting of Penzance Town Council and the mayor making ceremony. It was my first real taste of the pomp and ceremony of local government. I was pleased to see my fellow Mebyon Kernow councilor Phil Rendle to be officially re-elected as mayor of the town. I learnt a great deal about the process of local government and had ample opportunity later to have a good chat with some of the councilors and get a feel for where people are coming from and hope to achieve in the next 4 years.

I overcame my scepticism of the pomp when a good friend of mine, and former mayor of the town, Jerry Drew pointed out that this is the history of the town. The ceremonial and dramatically named "sword of justice" the maces, the key, seals and the ancient charter are mere symbols albeit extremely valuable. But they are relics of the past the continuity of this town council through the old borough council and the a demonstration of the history of this proud town. I ended up enjoying the parading, as it were, of these pieces. It impressed upon me the civic pride and the importance of tradition and history.

I also have spent some time reflecting on the nature of administration and political wrangling for power.  Here in Penzance we have a Mebyon Kernow mayor again, not because MK are the ruling group but because Cllr Rendle has done a good job so far as civic leader and chairman. As Phil said to me about this time last year after his election, he saw the role as mayor to try to reach consensus and to allow debate not to lead. As coordinator not as generalissimo.

Here on Penzance Town Council as Cornwall Council as well there is no clear consensus from the electorate, there is no mandate for one party or even a coalition of 2 parties to rule. I think Cornwall Council could do well to learn from Penzance Town Council and others to not pursue a ruling clique and cabinet but to have committees where cross party consensus and a diversity of opinion is required. Whichever 2 groups try to form a coalition on Cornwall Council (Lib Dem-Independence or Tory-Indy) they will lack the support collectively of 50% of those that voted.

The democratic thing for the groups on Cornwall Council to do would be a rainbow coalition (as proposed by the Lib Dems and MK). And/ or a leadership arrangement whereby the role is of chair to oversee and direct debate not legislate unilaterally. The great mistake of the previous administration was for a handful of councilors to make all the decisions with little input from the majority of councilors. Which directly led to the grassroots rebellion over privatisation and the former leader losing a vote of no confidence. Individuals and parties that wish to rule from a small number of decisive people with a clear direction would do well to refer back to the election results which gave no one party that mandate.


  1. Craig Weatherhill15 May 2013 at 23:17

    Phil Rendle's long years of dedicated public service has failed to be recognised for far too long. Same applies to Jan Ruhrmund, Phil's mayoral predecessor.

  2. The history of Penzance as a town did not, of course, begin with its inception as a borough (coming with it the right to have a mayor). 1332 should be inscribed in the town somewhere as well as 1614

    I would like to see the town council do much more than it has in the past to communicate properly with us its constituents. I am one of many who have written to the council via the town clerk, or to councillors only to receive no reply or be told to 'go through the proper channels'...only to still receive no reply. We rarely have a regular column in the Cornishman from any of our councillors. Most of us will never know who they are--I certainly hadn't heard of the majority that were your predecessors. Where were they? What did they do? I don't doubt a lot of excellent work is done by town council, by the mayor, deputy mayor and other councillors but please can you do something persuade others to be more outward facing and communicative?

    And while I'm here, what's the deal with the town council office? It's such an unwelcoming place, like a taxi company's waiting room or a cheap dentist's reception with its frosted glass and security locks (and the town noticeboard outside St John's Hall could do with a tidy up and some sign to tell us how the community may use it).

    Cheers councillor, look forward to your thoughts and good luck. At least through your blog we have a small chance of understanding the machinations of a town council that few of us really understand--it may also help dispel the frustrations of those who think the town has more powers than it really does.