Fringe Box



Letter: Call To Challenge Resolution Over Freemen And Aldermen

Published on: 15 Apr, 2014
Updated on: 15 Apr, 2014

From honorary alderman and former mayor Gordon Bridger

Some of your readers may be puzzled by a resolution passed by Guildford Borough Council which requires honorary freemen and aldermen to be “apolitical” and to “refrain from making public statements which are critical of the Council”.

Gordon Bridger.

Gordon Bridger.

A last minute amendment attempting to clarify this unusual restriction stated  that these “restrictions apply only when the person concerned  acts in their capacity as honorary freeman of aldermen”, adds to the confusion as there are no established responsibilities for these posts. The council threatens those found guilty by removal of their names from the Roll of Honour in the Guildhall.

It has been stated that freemen and aldermen are entitled to continue to express their views provided they do not use the title. This however  denies them what I regard as the most useful aspect of this honour which is the right to inform the public that one speaks with some authority, and failure to mention one’s title could be construed by others as an attempt to influence people without informing them of ones position.

Seeking to implement this resolution, according to legal advice, could find the council:

1:  in  contravention of Article 10 of Human Rights Act relating to Freedom of Expression.

2: ignoring the provision In the 1972 Local Government Act which makes it clear that aldermen are not members of the council and thus the council has no greater authority over us than other Guildfordians.

3: retroactively and unilaterally amending the terms of the award contrary to the presumptions of English Common Law.

4: limiting the support we can give to many important local organizations  central to our local democracy who might oppose council policies e.g. CPRE, NT, residents’ associations, etc.

In my view it is in the interest of Guildford and democracy to challenge this decision. Restrictions of one’s basic rights in exchange for an honour is not justifiable. It is vital as many people involve themselves in local matters as possible. It is fundamental to our democracy. I would welcome the views of others on this issue – am I right to do so?

It is on that basis with the amendment in place I shall continue to sign myself as above.


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Responses to Letter: Call To Challenge Resolution Over Freemen And Aldermen

  1. Chris Fox Reply

    April 16, 2014 at 9:43 am

    As one of the few people to have declined the position of honorary alderman I have long wondered how one or two honorary alderman in particular have been allowed to change the position which was always clear during my time on the council that if you became an honorary alderman you were committing yourself to political neutrality in Borough Council matters. If you wanted to continue to speak out in Borough matters you did not become an honorary alderman – very simple and clear.
    I am amazed but not surprised that Gordon Bridger feels his views are given more importance by how he signs himself and that mentioning his title is not attempting to influence people that he must of course always be right.

  2. Susan Parker Reply

    April 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    My personal view is that effective working democracy depends on unrestricted and unfettered debate. Guildford Borough Council seems to have a tendency to restrict criticism, whether from aldermen, councillors or members of the public (GBC demanded that the Fairlands community group removed a poster asking the public to “Write to Fight” – hardly an aggressive message! – and have supposedly given advice to some councillors that they cannot comment on local planning issues if they own property in their own ward).

    Freedom of speech is one of the essential basic human rights in any democracy.

    I don’t agree with everything Mr Bridger says, but – in the classic phrase – defend to the death his right to say it.

  3. Gordon Bridger Reply

    April 17, 2014 at 9:46 am

    In answer to Chris Fox there is no formal role defined for aldermen and freemen – had there been a restrictive one I would not have accepted it. There has been a convention that in return for this award one should be grateful and not criticise the givers – a convention which has no place in a modern democracy.
    Chris Fox should have challenged the convention publicly and we would have been aware of his objection and supported him.

    Seven us, from all parties, broke from the convention two years ago to draw attention to the need for a review of the council management which had demoralised so many council staff. Were we wrong to do so?

  4. Bernard Parke Reply

    April 17, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    The comment made by the former councillor Chris Fox was dismissed by the legal department at GBC some months back when certain councillors objected to hon aldermen being critical of their actions.

    No doubt that this is why, in this clumsy fashion, they are trying to change the ground rules.

    The point raised by Susan Parker concerning councillors not being permitted to speak on issues for which they were elected by their residents is, if correct, truly undemocratic.

    If it is the case the question must be asked why were they elected in the first place?

  5. Tim Downing Reply

    April 21, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    A quite outrageous attempt by the council to stifle criticism by someone with considerable experience of council matters, hence the importance of his mentioning his honorary title.
    I am appalled that councillors are even considering resorting to such tactics, which can only reflect extremely badly on them.
    Potentially contentious measures planned by the council do warrant and benefit from debate, hence the importance of thoughts being offered through the Press by people with appropriate experience, whether these thought support or oppose the proposals.

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