This week saw the final meeting of ‘Somerset County Council’. When the 110 councillors meet again (next month) they’ll be part of the totally new completely renamed ‘Somerset Council’. (See what they did there?). The final nails in the coffin of the old outdated system of 4 Districts and ‘1 Big County’ will be prized out with the pliers of expectation and the brand new posidrive screws of doom and foreboding will be hammered awkwardly into the sarcophagus of daftness that will become just ‘One Ridiculously Big County’. But for many it wasn’t a moment of hilarity, it was the end of an era. Not, as some of us thought, the start of an ‘error’. And on April the 1st it will be ‘Vesting Day’. Which involves, vests, probably. But what would this brave new council look like? That the Tories had fought so hard to create and the rest of us (including half of the county Tories) had fought equally hard to resist. God knows. It’s still not quite ready. But that’s just the kind of material the ruling Lib Dems like to play with. And with their massive majority on the new Unitary they’ve decided to be magnanimous, inclusive, all- embracing. Yes you’ve got it. Daft.
For the architect of the dash to Unitary, Cllr David Fothergill, leader of the Tory group, former leader of the county council, and now ‘leader of the opposition’ it was a chance to make the most of it. The County Council had been formed in 1888 and he wanted us to pay tribute to those men who had gone before us..and…triumphally..the one lone single solitary woman who had been Chair of the County..and yes, she was a Tory!! The Tories could boast yet another triumph…like they could boast that they were the only party that had had women prime ministers…Thatcher..Theresa May and..er Liz Truss. But it was his idea that they should go unitary. And he fondly recalled the day when he told the rest of the councillors. And it was subtle….One fateful day in 2017 he’d brought his daughters toy elephant into the room. Sat it on his desk, subtly pointed at it every now and then..‘got it yet? ey? ey?’. Yep, they hadn’t. New desks? Longer ears? No he meant they could solve all their problems by going unitary. The Tory county was in a financial crisis ..imagine the savings! But, imagine if the Lib Dems got in….no that couldn’t happen…
The History Man Makes History
For Lib Dem and now County Leader Bill Revans it was the chance to not just refute the Fothergill version of history but to go back even further in time. Never mind 1888, he wanted to take us back to 47 AD and the Roman Emperor Vespasian. Not sure councillors thought this was the best analogy and eyes looked nervously at each other as Emperor Billonius laid out his plans for wiping out the Trilovantes, the Silurians and the Megatrons (before realising the last ones were made up Dr Who villains). But Bill -a history teacher – had made his own bit of history. He was the last leader of Somerset County Council and would be the first leader of Somerset Council. And the Lib Dems, not with any great historical footprint, were the ‘people for the job’. With no specific policies that he could think of he recalled how others had done it. The Romans had built roads..like the Fosse Way..sort of the ‘wrong way’, but never mind. The Saxons had introduced Shire-Reeves -‘Sherrifs’, Bill had the badges all ready…And the Normans had built massive castles and locked the people into a dire feudal system of rank servitude . No this wasn’t going very well…so he opted for that ‘glazed eye stary look’, shouted ‘Sumorsǣte ealle!!’ and then, remembering he was a liberal, said ‘if we all work together we can probably make Somerset a better place’. The massed ranks of the Lib Dems behind him went ‘yes’ ‘thats right’ ‘probably’ .
Labour Makes it’s Mark
For Labour, with a respectable 5 councillors (and I say ‘respectable’ because none of them have been caught yet) it was a good opportunity to make an impact in the areas they were strong. And So with dynamic ‘good boy made local’ Leigh Redman in the driving seat the party came out of it with a bit more influence than before. Leigh himself would be the Chair of the important Children and Families Scrutiny committee while deputy Labour leader Kathy Pearce would chair the ‘Area North’ (that’s’ Sedgemoor’) (now try to guess the other 3 areas..) Planning Committee which covers the Bridgwater bit of the county.
And the other bit of good news for anyone glad to see the back of the old Tory dominated Sedgemoor District Council planning committee, the new one will see them in a minority, with just 6 compared to 3 Labour and 4 Lib Dems……good news..or….?
Were there some other parties??
For the Greens it was …..can you get there before me….yes, the Climate Scrutiny Committee. Green Leader Martin Dimery, Frome’s ‘Mister Dimery’, would chair that crucial body whilst at the same time having their green fingers in numerous other especially health conscious pies. And for the 3 independents, with literally no mandate apart from to whoever elected them as individuals, they still had their share of the liberal redistribution of loveliness. Cat-herder John Hunt was declared leader of the independent group and that started off an entire debate about the semantics of the phrase ‘independent group’. But largely inside peoples heads.
Somerset county council was no more. April the 1st…..and don’t assume they’d planned it this way….would be ‘vesting day’. The day that the new Somerset Council votes itself into existence….let’s just hope the meetings after midday….