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TOULMIN SMITH'S DIARY

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A diary with a different perspective from the quill of Joshua Toulmin Smith. ...
A diary with a different perspective from the quill of Joshua Toulmin Smith.

There's a little husband and wife councillor eccentricity going on at Berwick-upon-Tweed BC.

Brian and Grace Douglas are going about their business as New Labour Liberal Independents. Which means what exactly? Are they very indecisive? Or just fond of long names? In fact the purpose is to differentiate themselves from Independents who lean towards the Tories, but it's not entirely pretension free.

Mr Douglas said the 'new' applies to the whole concept, it's not just a reference to New Labour. Other Independents will have to keep up - by deciding which party they support.

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In about two years' time Sir Jeremy Beecham, the workaholic chairman of the Local Government Association, is planning to cut back his involvement in the busy solicitors' practice where he is a partner.

Sir Jeremy's firm is Beecham Peacock, where one of his fields is industrial injury claims. So is the reduction in working hours intended to make way for even more political work? Strangely, Sir Jeremy feels he already makes enough 800-mile round trips to London. He is making the change so 'I can lead a normal life'.

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The Reverend Ian Paisley could soon be heading for Worcestershire CC, where the council has banned non-Catholics who attend a Catholic school from travelling on the school bus. The council said it needed to save money, and will only subsidise pupils of the school's faith.

This has created something of a holy row. Director of education Julien Kramer has promised to take the bus in the next few days to see what all the fuss is about. The council could not confirm if he is a Catholic.

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A Hackney LBC sponsored archaeological dig has found evidence that elephants and rhinos roamed the area 300,000 years ago. Cynics might suggest that one or two prehistoric beasts are still at large in the borough - it's just that they've migrated to the political groups.

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It seems the Blairite revolution has finally reached Islington LBC. Members are trying to reinvent the party and regain power in the 2002 election with a new document, the 'Win 2002 battle plan'. This suggests members use good soundbites and applaud each other's speeches. What did they do before? Loudly boo and hiss when a colleague spoke?

There is clearly only one solution: a complete makeover. As the 'battle plan' states: 'For the most part the candidates in 2002 will be unrecognisable from 10 years ago.'

Islington councillors who aren't with the project should consider themselves warned.

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Rumours reach me of plans to launch a ministerial publicity campaign for directly elected mayors as soon as the Local Government Bill receives royal assent. Government regulations and amendments could mean mayoral elections in the autumn, and a power for the secretary of state to order councils to hold referendums on the same day, dubbed 'democracy day' by some, 'Gerry Stoker day' by others, after the patron saint ofmayors.

You don't need to be a member of the New Local Government Network to put two and two together. While the government will launch a national media blitz proclaiming the advantages of mayors, councils will be prevented from campaigning against.

So, within a few months the good burghers of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and other towns may get a chance to participate in a so-called democracy day. But does having one day in 365 devoted to democracy mean the rest are devoted to the government being dictatorial?

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