I attended the delightfully named Wells City Mayor-making Ceremony on Sunday. A traditional occasion, full of symbolism, dating back to the 11th century. The 648th Mayor, Councillor Stewart Cursley, stepped forward and swore an oath to be loyal to the Crown, the people, and to do his best for Wells. The official appointment was duly declared by the Town Crier who, from his Town Hall balcony vantage point, hollered the news across the ancient city.
The outgoing mayor, Cllr Philip Welch, gave a speech summarising his difficult tenure, coming as it did during a global pandemic. And yet, despite COVID, some £22,500 was raised for charity and many wonderful projects completed. Thanks were given for all his efforts, and in recognition of his service to Wells, a City badge was presented to him and his wife the Lady Mayoress.
Witnessing the Mayor-making, with all its robes and regalia, I felt surprisingly reassured. Supported by council officers, councillors and Alderman, I recognised I was in the company of dedicated, well-meaning people, prepared to give their time to serve their community. In these challenging times, the ceremony had a comforting continuity about it, as well as a respectful nod to the institutions and those individuals taking part.
You need to be pretty thick-skinned to become a councillor these days. Not everyone chooses to 'raise their head above the parapet’ and respect for the role is rapidly evaporating. People are prepared to tell you, in no uncertain terms to your face, exactly what they think. Even if you manage to avoid public confrontations, there’s no escaping the vitriol waiting for you in your inbox or on social media. It’s no wonder people think twice before putting themselves up to be a parish councillor let alone for a county or a national position.
When canvassing for the recent elections in May, I was saddened to hear comments like; “I’m not interested anymore, you are all the same,” or “I’m totally embarrassed by government, I have no faith in them – you’re all in it for yourselves” and “Why should I bother to vote when the government don’t keep their own laws?” While many of the comments relate to national situations and individuals, that distrust and disillusion percolates down to local government and local politicians and parishes too. Turnouts have fallen, and there’s an increasing number of people who have never voted. We need to fiercely guard our democracy and remember the many people around the world have fought hard for a vote to determine their government.
Whilst we must speak up for injustices, we should have our say with civility and show kindness towards each other. We must rise above the negative noise and acknowledge the great work being done locally, quietly, by an army of good people who fill our Town Halls and work in our communities. At Mendip District Council we flew the Pride flag at our offices in Shepton Mallet last week, to celebrate diversity. With tolerance and understanding comes progress. Good things are happening here, every day.
If you have any questions for me, then please do get in touch by email: [email protected] Facebook: @RosWyke
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].