Doctor, Doctor


IT’S THAT time of year again: the panto season, and we all love tradition, don’t we? At their last full council meeting of the year our elected representatives in Plymouth like to do the whole “He’s behind you!” thing.
Julian Clary and Keith Harris, appearing in Cinderella at the city’s Theatre Royal, have nothing to fear.
This week Cinderella (Mrs Madeline Bridgeman) went to the ball.
Mrs Bridgeman, a member of the Plymouth public, was exercising her right to put a question to a meeting of the full council, and she asked what they would do to ensure that the City Airport is not demolished when it closes on December 23. [a long and sad story, if you don’t live here]
Cinderella’s heart must have sunk when Prince Charming, (Cllr Ted Fry, Cabinet member for development and regeneration), began speaking. I know mine did.
It’s not so much what Cllr Fry said as what he didn’t say – which was practically nothing. If his speech was an aircraft it would be a full-scale emergency, circling the airport unable to deploy its landing gear.
“They’re all behind you,” Labour councillors taunted. (“They’re all asleep behind you”?)
Mrs Bridgeman must have been quite relieved, at what felt like midnight, when she could hurl her glass slipper at Prince C and flee.

ONE OF the Ugly Sisters, Cllr Mark Lowry (Lab, Honicknowle), demanded smoother pavements to walk on but was informed by the Broker’s Man, Cllr Ian Bowyer, Cabinet member for finance, that there was no money.
“Oh yes there is,” said Lowry.
“Oh no there isn’t,” said Bowyer.
“Oh yes there is,” said Lowry. “You can take it from the redundancy contingency fund because you haven’t sacked as many people this year as you thought you would.”
Who said life was all doom and gloom? That was like the moment in a panto when the cast fling handfuls of sweets to the kiddies. I sucked on a mint humbug. Or was it just plain humbug.

LABOUR called for a plan to tackle youth unemployment and we all got ready for a ding-dong battle. But no. Up popped Cllr Patrick Nicholson (Con, Plympton St Mary) like a Fairy Godmother to offer to set up a panel to study the problem.
It was only left to the rest to do a bit of worthy grandstanding.
Cllr Tudor Evans (Lab, Ham) intensely confused us with a row over who got called to speak.
Cllr Alison Casey (Lab, Moor View) intensely interested us with her impersonation of a Jack-in-the-Box (“Can I speak now?” “No!”)
Cllr Steve Ricketts (Con, Drake), a dead ringer for Prince Charming’s servant Dandini, intensely puzzled us by consigning university graduates to the checkout at Tesco.
“Graduates have to accept that they will be working in Tesco,” he said. “That’s the world they are living in.”
A strange comment for a fairly recent graduate and former president of his students’ union. It’s not clear if that’s exactly what he meant to say, or whether he just didn’t get round to expressing himself clearly. If I had a servant like that, I would beat him for being either foolish or lazy: it doesn’t much matter which.

BY NOW this reviewer’s head was spinning, which is the only excuse I have for my mistake.
Cllr Evans proposed a motion calling on the Boundary Commission to review proposals for redrawing the political map of Plymouth. The commission wants a new Westminster seat that takes in Plympton, bits of Plymouth’s existing Moor View constituency, Tavistock and Okehampton.
Hardly anyone thinks this is a good idea, which is why Conservative leader Cllr Vivien Pengelly seconded the Evans motion. Cross-party unity: a rare and beautiful thing.
Up leapt Cllr Professor Dr David Salter (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood), like a pantomime baddie, to stick a knife in the back of good intentions.
His proposed amendment to the Evans/Pengelly motion would have committed the council to specific suggestions about the new parliamentary boundaries, which made it unacceptable to Labour.
I staggered off in a confused daze to the tea room, only to be accosted by a second Doctor, Cllr Dr John Mahoney (Con, Peverell) who lobbied me about the amendment.
A confusion of doctors. When I came to write about this puzzling interlude for The Herald I accidentally attributed some remarks by Dr Mahoney to Dr Salter, for which I have been soundly beaten.

BUT THE Boundary thing won’t go away. The Tories belatedly submitted their own representation to the Boundary Commission, so I withdraw criticism of them for that.
But why does Labour apparently want to split Plymouth into four seats (taking in swaths of countryside)?
Why did the Tories ask publican Tam McPherson to go to talk to the Boundary Commission in Exeter?
And what will the Tory Doctors (above) do if the Commission decides that, in the absence of unity, it might as well stick with the Okehampton plan?
Scaremongers claim “Plymouth will be represented by an Okehampton MP”. Do they take us for fools? Which MP would see a town of 7,000 people as the focus of their attention rather than a city of 260,000?
What the heck is going on? Don’t ask me.

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Herald on December 9, 2011

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