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.