Howard Croft column: Illustrating who holds power on the council

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You may have noticed that a couple of weeks went by over the holiday period without an article from this “columnist”. I suspect that some of those whom I have lampooned in recent months jumped to an uncharitable conclusion and, cold hearts filled with hope, scoured the obituary columns looking for evidence that there was indeed for them a Father Christmas. They would have been disappointed I am happy to say and I am here to review events that occurred in my absence.

Councillor Tommy Woodward got himself in a spot of hot water over an ill-judged and rather tasteless remark about a suicidal field sportsman. I don’t know Mr Woodward, have never met him, but he has always seemed to me to be a reasonable enough bloke, although I don’t share his views on hunting and shooting. He has been described to me as a single-issue fanatic, which, if it is true, might explain things; they are a type who are inclined to lose their peripheral vision and, when trying to be humorous or whimsical, fail to predict the effect of their wit on those who are not similarly committed. They are also inclined to attribute moral turpitude to those who take a different view from their own rather than to consider that they have, in light of the same facts, honestly arrived at another conclusion.

That said, Councillor Woodward has had a rough ride with demands from all quarters for his resignation. This council has only three months to run before electioneering begins for the next lot when the voters can deal with him as they see fit. Our fragrant Leaderene, Mrs Cowling, made a revealing comment to this newspaper. “Unfortunately, we are elected – and not employed – and that is the reason we can’t sack him”; well, quite – a regret that many of us felt when the same Mrs Cowling referred to the “moaning Minnies of Malton”. At least Councillor Woodward had the decency to apologise.

It was curious that so much was made of the point that he was speaking not as a councillor, but in some other capacity. It is a very odd idea that the office of councillor is perceived as something that can be turned on and off at will. There are those, doctors and police 
officers for example, who can be held to account for their behaviour and utterances even when they are not in the clinic or on the beat.

Councillor John Clarke’s article about who really wields the power on the Council, members or officers (officers is the correct answer), was neatly raised in an obituary of all places. Air Marshall Sir John Sutton, when he was at a more junior rank and working at the Ministry of Defence, proposed a package of initiatives that would make air crews more effective and less vulnerable. Civil servants at the ministry ruled that this was too expensive and would in any case involve three years of trials. The real reason (that they just didn’t want to do it) became clear when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands; his entire package was implemented in ten days.

On a more personal level, Mrs Croft and I collected grandson Archie from his school (Peppard Primary in Oxfordshire). Although the school finishes at 2.30 pm, clubs for the children who choose to stay run from then until 3.30. Archie’s choice is football and a training session was scheduled that afternoon on the common in front of the school. We arrived early so that we could admire his prowess, ignored his shouted instruction to “get back in the car!” and drew close. Mrs Croft, who fancies herself a bit of a photographer and to be fair she takes some lovely snaps, immediately started pointing and clicking. I was on red alert at once and went over to the teacher in charge and reported her, explaining that I am Archie’s grand-
father, but sadly am unable to control Mrs Croft when she’s holding her box Brownie. Better to be a snitch than thought a groomer after 
all.

He looked us up and down (fortunately I was wearing a clean shirt) and said it was “probably OK”. Within minutes the head teacher came running out to challenge us. Someone had phoned him to say that a couple of creeps were 
photographing his children. I explained status as a grandparent (“And which child is your grandchild?”) and he soon relaxed. What if that Good Samaritan had 
phoned the police and not the head? Into the back of a red and white van with her, probably. It’s quite a thought to savour. We did see that day “safeguarding” implemented, smoothly and effectively.