Politics in Wonderland

From: The Herald, Friday March 12, 2010

IF I told you that there was a man in a full suit of 15th-century armour, and a roomful of suits arguing about a fancy- dress party, you’d probably think this was a review of the new Alice In Wonderland movie.

Yesterday I stepped through the door of the Council House in Plymouth… and felt like Alice (but please, just call me Al) tumbling down the rabbit-hole.

A large and jolly man in a colourful tie breezed through, stopping only to tell me how he had got stuck in a children’s climbing frame. That was Cllr Peter Brookshaw, who earlier in the day had carelessly allowed himself to be persuaded to try out the apparatus at the newly refurbished Titchy Park in North Prospect.

This being an important day in many ways at the Council House, there was a surplus of Cheshire Cats, all political grin and a surprising ability to vanish as soon as they saw a reporter with a notebook.

In the room mentioned above the Knave of Hearts (Cllr Bill Stevens) was on trial – not for stealing tarts, but for being rude to the Dormouse (Cllr Steve Ricketts) and trying to link him to a thoroughly distasteful fancy- dress party. Actually, a bit more than rude; anyone who has followed the usual convention of reading a newspaper from the outside in will already know that this Labour Knave had got himself in a spot of bother (see pages one and two) over an infamous fancy- dress party that got two up-country Young Conservatives sacked by their party.

The Dormouse, who in times gone by seemed capable only of sleeping or eating biscuits during council committee meetings, found himself at the cutting edge of a misguided article by Mr Stevens.

Mr Stevens, following the old tabloid hack’s dictum “Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story,” published and was duly damned.

“Off with his head!” shouted the White Queen (council leader Vivien Pengelly). Mr S was dragged before the highest court in sight, the council’s Standards Committee.

You cannot fault the committee’s members for openness. “All persons more than a mile high to leave the court,” ordered the legal eagles, though perhaps not exactly in those words.

“No,” said the members of the jury. “Let them stay.”

And so, for the first time since the Standards Committee was given new powers to punish misbehaving councillors, the public was allowed to see justice being done.

Cllr Bill was told to apologise to Cllr Steve, which for a politician is worse than having your head chopped off.

Council politics can be a bit like the Tea Party in Alice. The Hatter (Tudor, definitely not mad, Evans) and the March Hare, who has to be Labour whip Cllr Eddie Rennie, are for ever trying to stuff the snoozing Dormouse Steve Ricketts into a teapot. I’m not sure why the Labour group has it in for Ricketts, except perhaps that some of the things he says can make you think he’s talking in his sleep.

At the council, the clock seems to be permanently stuck in a time of class war. Instead of arguing about policy, they spend their valuable energy on personal attacks.

Every so often there’s an election and the councillors get up and move round the table to a fresh cup. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of bickering, they would just do the washing-up?

THE Alice In Wonderland sequel now showing in cinemas may be in 3D but that’s nothing; my visit to the council yesterday contained at least four dimensions, and all of them badly distorted.

A bizarre day was nicely rounded off when Cllr Mary Aspinall, the next Lord Mayor of Plymouth, came by fresh from a civic ceremony to honour Military Cross-holder Kate Nesbitt (see page 7).

Ms Aspinall revealed that as a midwife 21 years ago she delivered Kate, now the hero of Lashkar Gah.

“My own daughter is Kate; we call her Kamikaze Kate,” Ms Aspinall said. “I warned Kate Nesbitt’s mum back then when I delivered her that it was a dangerous name.”

I ALMOST forgot to tell you about the man in the suit of armour. He’s going to jump off a 200ft waterfall for charity. Does that make you feel any better?


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