by Alan Dean on 16 May, 2021
It is thirty years since I was handed the baton by my colleague and good friend Melvin Caton to become leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Uttlesford District Council. This coming week, it’s time for me to hand back to Melvin the baton for him to lead the five Lib Dem councillors forward for the rest of this Council term to May 2023.
I informed my Lib Dem colleagues in January that I intended to stand down as Leader of the Opposition this month to make way for someone a few years younger than me, and to someone able to bring fresh ideas, impetus and stability to this somewhat troubled council. There is much for the opposition parties to do to bring some equilibrium and new thought to the way Uttlesford is being run for the benefit of local residents and businesses.
It’s not quite “All change!”, but the Council will soon also have a new chief executive (*), so I feel it is timely, as the longest serving Member on the Council (34 years and two more of this term to go!) to take a mezzanine seat. The group chose Melvin Caton as my successor. Melvin spent twenty-one of the intervening years until 2019 outside the Council pursuing his career. I wish him well on getting back his old hat (and baton).
Melvin and I have been together through many challenges in politics since the early 1980s and the days of the SDP-Liberal Alliance; keeping the Tories on their toes when they ran the show; being kept on our toes by the Tories when we were in charge; and currently working with the Greens, an Independent councillor and the Tories to hold to account an administration that is difficult to explain and to pin down. Such is present day politics: the pervasiveness of populism and the popularity of post-truth politics.
(*) I mentioned the chief executive. Dawn French has been with us for five years and has decided to leave in August. All chief executives take on a challenge by trying to work with elected councillors to deliver local services for local people. It’s not for me to put words into Dawn’s mouth about what the job is like, but I will agree with her recent public statement that the level of trust within UDC is poor.
Trust is indeed at an all-time low. I’ve been here long enough to be able to say with confidence and with sadness that Uttlesford District Council needs to decide whether honesty matters.
I wish Dawn a highly enjoyable retirement from full-time local government service after 38 years (yes, even longer than me!) and much more opportunity to spend time with her family. I shall follow her example – though with the odd continuing meeting as well 🙂
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