As has been noted elsewhere and despite rumours to the contrary, Greenwich Council has decided to go ahead with this year’s elaborate and expensive Mayoral Inauguration ceremony in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College.
As a councillor I attended this event for the last five years but it is not just sour grapes at having fallen off the guest list that makes me call for the Council to save most of the £30,000 cost and do something cheaper this year when so much else is being cut.
The purpose of the ceremony is for the outgoing mayor, who is the official host, to hand over the baton to her successor. Both make a brief speech and there is usually a pleasant musical interlude from local performers. If this was all that happened then the Council’s recent claim that the Inauguration is a “determinedly non-political event” might have some merit. However probably the longest single item and certainly the longest speech is always an address from the Leader of the Council Chris Roberts.
Chris can be relied upon to give an upbeat survey of what is happening in the Borough, reasonably dignified and non-partisan but with an “aren’t we doing well” flavour and thus clearly political. Last year he greeted the change of Government with an assurance that there would be no 1980s style defiance or refusal to set a Council Tax while he was in charge - a welcome and sensible position in my view, but hardly non-political. His speeches belong in the Council Chamber where they can be challenged and not at a “determinedly non-political” function.
The first time I attended in 2006 the two Opposition leaders also spoke but in subsequent years, for reasons never properly explained, they have not been allowed to do so. Naturally this led to some ill feeling among councillors and to a suspicion that Chris Roberts now genuinely believes himself to be above politics or that - to paraphrase Tony Blair - he considers the Labour Party to be the sole political arm of the Greenwich people.
Greenwich Council has for example withdrawn support for the Blackheath fireworks, withdrawn its funding for Blackheath Halls and is threatening to close the zoo in Maryon Wilson Park. It may be that these are unpleasant necessities so that it can continue providing life and death services to vulnerable people. But they give pleasure to thousands whereas the invitation-only Painted Hall ceremony does not .
There are 40 Labour councillors - will any of them be brave enough to publicly speak out against this abomination?
Paul Webbewood is a former Liberal Democrat councillor.