The man in the white suit

CAMDEN Council’s former planning chairman Brian Woodrow gathered friends for a clink of glasses on Friday night, all saluting his final few days at the Town Hall after a 20 year stint. It was a warm celebration full of constituents, councillors old and new, and a crowd of council officers who clearly have affection for him despite his groans about procedure in the planning rooms at Judd Street.

While the Labour councillor spent much of his 15 minute speech cracking jokes and thanking friends, Brian, now easily recognisable at the Town Hall for his Martin Bell style white suit, had a few things to get off his chest as well. He admitted he was ‘rambling’, so it was ironic that he was actually calling for more brevity in the huge wedges of council reports that councillors are expected to read before making decisions on the planning committee. The point was valid, however, as he suggested that in the past some councillors, whom remain nameless, hadn’t combed all of the fine detail of the reports but still voted for or against certain planning applications.

This, he said, even if they didn’t understand what they were voting on.

There was also a call for the council to not rely on people seeing planning documents online and a warning that councillors of all political stripes often found out more about Camden Council from the Camden New Journal rather than the officers who are paid to keep them up to speed. Woodrow also condemned the cabinet system of local governance, the system where an inner cabal of senior councillors boss the play at the Town Hall while backbenchers become more and more marginalised. All fair points and worthy of review for the next administration.

“I’m being released back into the community,” he said with one of his wry, knowing smiles. “People have asked whether I’m ready for that. Others have asked whether the community is actually ready for my release.”

But the crying shame of it all is that this councillor of vast experience and expertise wanted to continue serving, he wanted to defy his health problems for the public good. He’s only finishing up now because he was ambushed at a Labour selection meeting when the ‘safe’ seats were worked out.

Labour has the ultimate defence, that the way they select their candidates is wholly democratic and not just taken by the group leader. But what happened here? Do the Labour party members in Holborn and Covent Garden who were balloted really think voters down there have fallen out of love with Brian. That the people who will mark their crosses in the ward eleven days from now are no longer impressed by his commitment and know-how.

Of course they haven’t. He’s loved down there and ditching him might just come back to bite Labour in a constituency which has otherwise served them well. Truth is, characters like the man in the white suit will be sorely missed at the Town Hall, regardless of political allegiances. The fact is that neighbourhood he has represented so well will miss out too.

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