Last week I went along to the full council meeting at the town hall. It is not something I do very often, maybe once or twice in the last five years, but last week was a very special meeting – the last one ever to feature Bert Crane as a councillor.
He has been a councillor since before many of us were born, and possibly longer than anybody else in the country – 58 years continuously. Not on the same council of course. Local government has been reorganised a few times while he has been there.
He started on Horsham rural district council then the urban development council and finally on Crawley borough council. This year his four-year term is up and he has decided not to stand again.
At the meeting last week the mayor presented Bert with a badge which will continue to give him access to the town hall facilities after his retirement. She described it as being an honorary councillor and having the freedom of the town hall (though I think he already has the freedom of the town) but in practice it just means he will be able to go into the members’ room for a coffee and the read the newspapers.
Perhaps he will enjoy being able to continue his long-established routine, or perhaps he will try to catch up on 58 years’ worth of jobs around the house, but at least he has the choice and it was a well-meant gesture by the council.
The dark side of it all is the well of mean spirits that the event uncovered. The way I understand it, this gesture was thught up by somebody on the Labour group and agreed with the leader of the council. All was well until he raised it in a Tory group meeting and there was a lot of resistance to doing this small thing. Why and how could you object to it?
Really this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I can’t imagine many people, if any, have served so long in the same place without a break, and I can’t see it happening again. It is well known that Bert would not accept any sort of official honour like an OBE or CBE or whatever as he has a robust view of the whole honours system, but this is something from people he knows and who know him, so that’s OK.
Bert isn’t in the best of health these days but he is still sharp and puts a lot of energy into being a councillor, even after so long. Anybody who would not have some admiration for him or who would begrudge him a small token of appreciation must be a very small-minded and spiteful individual indeed.