That moaning Mayor…

‘I always read your column – and then I throw it across the room.’

Ah there’s nothing like having a fan. The speaker was the last Lord Mayor of York before the present one. I would advise him against throwing this blog across the room. It might not be good for his computer.

The incumbent in question was that genial Tory Ian Gillies. We differed on politics, which was why he teased me about my column. I didn’t expect to like Ian, a big, florid old-school seeming Conservative, but he turned out to be a charmer. And he was a very dedicated Lord Mayor, who worked hard in the role, winning over everyone he met. At the end of his year, he stepped away from his robes and chain a little more florid perhaps, but roundly admired.

I don’t meet a lot of Lord Mayors of York. We move in different circles. But I did meet the one before that too. Julie Gunnell came into the office where I used to work wearing jeans and seeming remarkably casual. She was friendly, genuine and earnest too. Julie, a Labour councillor, was a good mayor as well, and she also charmed everyone she met.

The role is shared between the political parties and is usually considered an honour. There has been a Lord Mayor of York, on and off, since 1212 when King John granted the city the right to raise its own taxes. Few of them seem to have caused as much rancour and bother as Councillor Sonja Crisp.

Her tenure has been as tarnished as the chains of office she refused to wear back in September, claiming they weren’t in a fit state. This story surfaced in a series of leaked emails which included the line: ‘Just a gentle reminder that I am the Lord Mayor, the first citizen, the rightful resident of the Mansion House and I have rights too.’

As well as disdaining her chains of office, she was reported to have asked council officials to put her up in an apartment while her official residence in York’s Mansion House was affected by building work. She does, of course, have a house but presumably felt she was getting a poor deal as Lord Mayor.

If she stopped to think, she might have concluded that her behaviour was making her look foolish and pompous. But Coun Crisp ploughed on regardless, and now a local row that made national headlines has surfaced again.

In further leaked emails reported by the excellent Mike Laycock on my old newspaper, Coun Crisp is revealed to have called herself the “Pauper Lord Mayor”, to have stormed out of the opening of York’s very fine (but costly to enter) new art gallery, complained about emotional blackmail and compared York to “1800s Dodge City”.

And now she has been suspended by the Labour Party. Even her own side seem to be embarrassed by her behaviour.

Oh, there is more. She is reported to have refused to use the office because of the dirty carpet, and is said to have kicked up a fuss about not being able to have a family Christmas in Mansion House, as usually happens with Lord Mayors.

There is yards of this shaming stuff. With a sigh of reluctance, I direct you to my old newspaper’s website. It’s a good read.

Coun Crisp is said to have had a bit of a reputation before her elevation, and she doesn’t appear to have garnered her honoured role with much grandeur or grace.

Mike Laycock used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal all this information. Tony Blair introduced this Act in 2000 – and later seemed to consider it an inconvenience. This Government wants to weaken the Act. Not all uses of this Act have been worthwhile, and sometimes it produces dull journalism, it seems to me. But the moaning mayor story shows that it can work very well too.

In short, information about governmental and official life should be made public – that is be freely available to the public. So attempts to dilute the Act are a disgrace and should be resisted.

As for the Lord Mayor, well Man On Ledge is still looking for gainful employment. I promise not to complain about anything…

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