Ledbury's shadowy burghers have done their best to shore up the hapless Elaine Fieldhouse during her bleak tenure as mayor after defenestrating their first choice for the job last year, self confessed domestic and child abuser, Martin Eager. The public outcry at his election almost threatened riots.
These upstanding brothers from the Eastnor Lodge who know what's best for the town, understand that stability is strength and continuity is control.
It is essential that the Liz Harvey tendency, that raucous, insolent, anti-patriotic rabble who have taken the Council to the brink of ruin, must be stopped before it has the chance to do anything to really upset the status quo. One thing is certain: they must never grasp the reins of power.
There was a foretaste of this at the Parish Meeting last Thursday, even before Crowe had flounced and Barnes had said his nasty little goodbye. Out of six 'distinguished citizens' that were recognised by the Town Council, three were Council cronies.
First up was Ken Davies, a former town mayor from bygone times. His most recent outing into Ledbury affairs was a letter denouncing the bullies in the town council, and expressing such sympathy for the awful treatment endured by council staff. Ken's most infamous contribution however was the proposal that Ledbury Park should be converted into a golf course, with the building of an accompanying holiday village. Ken has always had an interest in tourism with a keen eye for an opportunity; he owns Woodside Holiday Cottages. Next came Bob Barnes-acolyte Jennie Harrison, the amateur military activist and leading light in the Royal British Legion since her recent arrival in Ledbury.
As if the tang of dyspepsia from twenty long minutes of fawning and mutual back slapping was hard enough to take, the spectacle then got really bilious. One of last year's winners - Hilary Jones - stood up and to groans of disbelief, nominated ex-town councillor Clive Jupp for a distinguished citizen award. His face beamed with delight and gratitude, the audience not so much. She was presumably returning the favour to Clive who had nominated her last year.
CORRECTION: Hilary Jones's daughter has corrected me on the above information; apologies to Mrs Jones for any offence caused. She said: "Mum was in fact nominated in 2012,she was not one of last years winners as you stated,she was nominated for her voluntary work within the community over the past 40 years,this nomination was not in fact by Clive as you have suggested.
She chose to nominate Clive for the distinguished citizen award this year on behalf of many people who have appreciated his valued input to the local community.....not purely to ‘return the favour’ as you put it. She also doesn’t recall any groans of disbelief at the nomination.... "
It is important to pay attention to signs and symbols like these. Here we had the town council signalling its allegiance to an old, entrenched Tory establishment, to military values and service, and to the chivalric codes of deference, obedience, and reverence for authority, so admired by the town's old believers of Jupp, Conway, Winter, Yeoman et al. Remember those has-beens? Except they are not.
These people might have bowed out of actual council meetings, but let us not forget that they still run things. The oligarchy in Ledbury - as in the wider county - is complemented by a sprinkling of high-ranking masons, conservative grandees, ex-councillors and county gentry. 'Here' you do as you're told.
Barely had the unctuous words of praise and gracious acceptance speeches faded, than Crowe was slating Harvey (and me) for years of bullying, intimidation, abuse and victimisation - of her. Somebody shouted 'look in the mirror'.
Annette's jeremiad was fulsomely backed up by former arch-enemy Tony Bradford, who continued from the platform to insult and berate members of the audience and fellow councillors.
It was a typically undignified and ugly display. But it served its purpose. Counterpointed by Ledbury's little awards ceremony - we're calling them the LAFTAs by the way - the rancourous exchanges created an even more poisonous atmosphere.
Then and now. Now, it is all chaos and anarchy. Then, it was smooth, purposeful, and controlled. Now it is bitterness and hatred. Then it was camaraderie and civility. Then it was us. Now, horrifyingly, it might be them.
The Vulgarians are at the gate.
Today (Monday) they were gathered in the town council offices, joined by a few unknown faces: Bradford, Eager, Fieldhouse, Barnes and Crowe - though why these two should be in private conference within the town council is concerning since they are no longer elected councillors. Papers and files were being scrutinised amid much pursing of brows. It was agreed that Fieldhouse would, like her friend Crowe, use her mayoral speech of thanks to launch another vicious assault on Liz Harvey et al. Then she will storm out casting the chains of office down histrionically. And there will be a dreadful scene. And the 'people' will call for the Council to stand down, and then the council can start afresh - preferably shorn of its reformist faction.
The 'new blood' narrative is designed to ensure that the dissident councillors, the ones that have been calling out incompetence, nepotism, maladministration, and possible corruption for the last three years, will also be swept away on a populist tide. The intake of 'new faces' will be the better to have their strings tweaked just like the gullible fools from 2015 did: Andy Manns, Matthew Eakin, Jean Simpson, Debbie Baker.
So on Voice of Ledbury yet another ex-mayor from long ago crawls out and says he wants a town council he can be proud of. The lot of them should resign, he says craftily. One of the town's pillars of charitable virtue, a mason's wife and Rotarian, says that it is such a pity that despite everything Crowe and Barnes have not been formally thanked for their wonderful voluntary work in the town. Obtusely, she says has lost track of all the rights and wrongs of the matter. A serving councillor - one of Crowe's vegetables - is upset that here he is trying to 'deffuse (sic) the situation and others [are] fanning the flames'. Forget it.
The blaze is raging out of control and things are becoming dangerously unpredictable. One of Barnes' attack dogs drove his car straight at Cllr Andrew Warmington while he was walking his dog. In the Bye Street loos, Liz Harvey, who has been cleaning them single-handed since the reopening, had to contend with a pile of human excrement carefully deposited in the middle of the toilet floor. This follows on from gluing up of the locks, and trashing of the floral display. There have been a string of nuisance phone calls, and David Fieldhouse, the mayor's optician husband, has been officially cautioned by police for making a threatening and abusive telephone call to a serving councillor's house. There is violence in the air.
No. Let there be a fresh start for the town council in May 2019 at the appointed time. In the meantime, let us undertake the hard task of truth and reconciliation. Ledbury Town Council - and its residents - need to reflect on what has happened and understand how to ensure this obscene abuse of power, privilege and precious resources can never happen again. The Council needs to be reformed in the way it does business. But more than anything, councillors - or rather those who remain after the ringleaders of the vendetta against Harvey have resigned - need to agree how they treat each other, how disputes are resolved, and how a culture of decency can be restored. A rebuilt Ledbury Town Council needs to commit itself to an exemplary ethical framework. From being one of the worst parish councils in England, it should and can aspire to being a leader and a role model.
More than anything Ledbury needs honesty and openness. Let there be no sweeping the filth and decayed matter under the carpet.
Then it was lies. Now is the time for truth.