In a heated meeting last night Hartlepool Borough Council approved seven names to go forward for consideration as Freemen and Honorary Aldermen of the town. Speculation that Peter Mandelson was one of the potential new Freemen has already been reported in the local newspaper and been the subject of some correspondence in the Hartlepool Mail Reader's Letters Page.
The names being recommended had been selected by the Council’s Civic Honors Committee from nineteen original nominations. The Full Council met tonight in closed session to debate the selection and to confirm, or reject, the recommendations.
According to the Agenda each of the seven names would be debated individually and voted on individually. This gave the Council the opportunity to accept or reject each nomination on their own individual merit. The Labour Group, detecting that possibly not all seven of the names had an equal level of support, proposed that the list should be accepted as a single package, thereby removing the requirement for discussion of individual nominations.
This "all or nothing" proposal was opposed by several Councillors who felt each name should be debated on its own merits. The choice of individual debate or a single "all or nothing" decision was put to the vote and the Council tied 19 votes to 19 votes. The Council Chairman, Councillor Carl Richardson (Labour) used his casting vote to force through the all or nothing option. One Councillor at the meeting described the decision as "Democracy as they know it in North Korea".
At times after this the meeting descended into chaos with the Chairman rejecting potential points of order and failing to recognise Councillors indicating they wished to speak. When the vote was called for confusion reigned over what exactly the Council was being asked to vote on.
The vote on the Freemen and Aldermen nomination was finally taken on a roll call basis, with individual members being asked to register their vote so that it could be recorded in the minutes.
To approve a Civic Honour requires a more than two thirds majority of the votes cast to be in favour. When the Roll Call was completed 22 Votes were recorded in favour of the seven names and 10 were recorded against. The majority of the Liberal Democrat group showed the courage of their convictions and abstained from the vote. Of course "Courage" and "Convictions" are not two words normally associated with Liberal-Democrats. All the Conservative Councillors present voted against the motion with the exception of Conservative Councillor Pauline Laffey of Park Ward, who voted for the motion. Councillor Laffey’s support was enough for the motion to approve the seven names by a single vote! The look the Conservative Leader's face when he realised it was one of his members who saved Labour's blushes was a picture! Once again Laffey shows her "Blue Labour" rosette. I am sure she will get her reward from her Labour Comrades in the future. After all it was John Bercow's tactics of sucking up to Labour that got him the Speaker's Chair in the House Of Commons. I wonder which chair Pauline Laffey is expecting in return for her loyalty to the Labour Cause?
Although reports in the local press have identified Peter Mandelson as one of the new potential Freemen of the town this cannot be officially confirmed. The names of the individuals to be honoured will not be officially released until they have been approached to confirm they will accept the honour should it be formally offered to them. Until this time Hartlepool Council are applying the Local Government Act 2000 to officially keep the names confidential.