A rather strange tale has arrived on the News Desk at the Northern Herald.
On Monday all the South Tyneside Council opposition leaders met with Irene Lucas, Chief Executive. Apparently the meeting is a regular event. What wasn’t a regular event however, was the tirade and ticking off that Ms Lucas launched on those present. Apparently she was absolutely appalled at the behaviour of opposition leaders at January’s abandoned Council meeting. A plethora of officials had complained to her about member’s behaviour (though she named no names) and that such conduct was totally unacceptable.
So who was the target for the Headmistress’s wrath?
Fist out his chair to defend himself was Councillor David Potts, Conservative Group Leader. In classic “not me guv” style, Potts assumed the position of a defence lawyer (he probably charged a similar fee!): myself and my colleagues behaved impeccably etc. Of course they do David. You yourself weren’t even at the January meeting (again) and your presence at Monday’s get together was your first this municipal year. Perhaps one of your Labour friends tipped you off over lunch that a good telling off was on the cards? As for your colleagues, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, they never speak or move accept to vote for Labour motions. Even then they have to be prompted from their colleagues across the way. It’s therefore not the Tories who will be receiving lines.
The same scenario applies to Jimmy Capstick, head boy for the Progressives. Mr Capstick was on holiday in January (I hope he had excuse note from Ms Lucas), and also missed the meeting. Also absent without leave for most of the meeting was leader of the “real” Independents, Councillor George Elsom. True to form the Liberal Democrat leader also made no leap from his chair, adopting the same inert position of opposition he had done during the trouble meeting under discussion (and in reality, the year so far). So these three won’t be getting the cane!
That only leaves one other person in the room to blame for the Head’s blanket criticism: Councillor Jane Branley, spokesperson for the Independents. Poor old Jane: “grassed” up by the kids in the school yard, she now faces detention, lines, no seconds at lunch time, 20 laps round the school field etc.
The Headmistress runs this school, and she must have her way!
However, the Headmistress does not run the school, the Board of Governors do!
Let’s now look at this issue with the degree of seriousness it deserves.
Irene Lucas is appointed by a selection committee of Councillors. She is answerable to them and them alone. Councillors are not answerable to her. Her position is to implement polices which they see fit to decide on. Councillors are elected by those eligible to vote in the Borough. As such they carry one of two very basic political mandates from their Wards. Firstly, if their party is the same as the ruling group, they implement policies in conjunction with their party’s outlook. If their political elegance is not the same as the ruling group, they have been elected as an OPPOSITION, and their conduct will be expected to be as such. Neither of these two groups is answerable to any full time official within the Council, regardless of rank: they are answerable to the electorate and them alone. Every four years they therefore stand before the electorate and hold themselves to account. Every time they are re elected, as Jane Branley has been on successive occasions, there approach is endorsed.
No where in this scenario is there any democratically legitimate mechanism, structure or moral acceptability for Irene Lucas to chastise Councillors for the correct, lawful and expected discharge of the representational duties. With an unprecedented degree of arrogance, ineptitude and political bias, the Chief Executive has shown clearly that she considers herself as leader of South Tyneside Council, not those elected by the members of the Borough.
Irene Lucas has committed the greatest transgression possible: she has crossed the line of political impartiality and shown favour to one political group. For this alone she should resign.