So Cheshire East Council leader Michael Jones has gone, and not many people will be sad to see him go.
We liked him when he came. A council the size of Cheshire East needs a big man — in the charisma sense — at the helm and Michael fitted the bill in all areas.
He fired off ideas like a demented Catherine Wheel, many of them duffers, shooting from the hip (if not his mouth off) and made up policy on the hoof. He sounded fully in command and confident in his abilities at all times, which is what you want when your leader is off to London to battle the Government.
But he needed a team behind him to wind him in, and hide his wilder ideas until he forgot about them, which was where Cheshire East failed.
Since he came to power, critics have regularly tried to question how he made his money and where his taxes went, but we always thought the environment in which he made his money was more relevant.
This was in recruitment to the banking sector, during the years when banks were recruiting selfish boors whose aim was enrich themselves and sod the rest, and money was no object.
Would the skills he used so successfully in that environment transfer to local government? Sadly not. He brought with him something of the arrogant casino bankers’ attitude that they know best, and are better than the rest of us.
When the banks failed no-one was brought to justice. Cheshire East Council developed a similar attitude — when it lost £1m on the appallingly-managed Lyme Green waste centre, the report was kept secret and we still don’t know who was to blame: the only obvious conclusion was that Michael had a major part to play.
When Private Eye called once, the Press office said it might only answer queries when it showed the council in a good light — the secrecy of banking coming to the public sector, it appeared.
Making his resignation, Michael clearly believes he’s operating on a world stage and has been sabotaged by Dark Forces.
He cited Maggie Thatcher and used the phrase “blue on blue”, perhaps referencing the “black on black” categorisation of violence, elevating the complaints about his behaviour to some sort of social comment.
He also said the “knives are always out for winners”. In reality the knives are out for people who try to hide mistakes, say the first thing that comes into their heads, fail to deliver a local plan and treat people like idiots.
This writer stopped going over to see Michael because it was pointless, albeit entertaining: 40 minutes of being talked at and promises of stories, consultation and advertising that never came to a single thing. Indeed, at our last meeting he promised us advertising, then promptly took out full pages all the newspapers in Cheshire East except the Chronicle. (To his credit he wrote and apologised).
If he wants to get all dramatic over his resignation, he could look to the fathers of drama, the Greeks, for whom hubris was a big thing – the Wikipedia definition is “a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.” That sums up many a politician who believes his or her own mythology.
But despite all his lofty language, Michael is being forced out because of a rather squalid deal involving a personal friend, his physiotherapist being awarded work after side-stepping the normal tendering process.
That’s it. Nothing to do with success, and all to do with the appearance of bending the rules to help out your chums.
He refutes all claims of bullying. In his resignation conference he said that “forceful commitment and passion” was mistaken for bullying “too often” but his actions suggest that (being charitable) his “forceful commitment” led to people doing things they didn’t really want to do, whether it was the Press office being made to run his Twitter account against its better judgment or officers waiving tender procedures to give work to his physio. And that’s just what we know about.
Still, we will miss him. He had charisma, drive and good ideas, and we like interesting people.
The appalling failure of the local plan aside, Cheshire East Council does much good work and Michael has made it a better authority while he was there. Social media means that nasty little campaigns can be whipped up quickly, and a lot of the criticism of Michael is unfounded and crude.
We are sad to see him go, and sad that he squandered his chance to do something big. It’s his own doing, however.
As we write this, we do not know who is going to be the new leader, but Cheshire East Council needs to take a sober look at what it needs: not a party apparatchik but someone who can carry on where Michael left off, and someone with drive and ambition — and a lot more transparency.