Charismatic leader brought himself down

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.

One thought on “Charismatic leader brought himself down”

  1. I have to say, the piece reads more like a sad obituary to a long serving local servant rather than the condemnation of hateful, self obsessed bully. Maybe you’ve been brow-beaten too many times by him in your day job – although I know your reasons for that – it’s just a pity that other local media has been much more vocal in their views in print. More’s the pity therefore that here – where you could voice an honest assessment of this loathsome excuse for a politician – you fail to land one solid punch, choosing to timidly flap a limp silk handkerchief in his general direction instead.

    You gloss over the failed projects other than your token mention of Lyme Green, ignoring such disasters as the Macclesfield main street development, Congleton’s Bridestones and dare I say it, the Congleton Relief Road debacle. In fact Michael Brown’s evil empire has failed to deliver one single capital project – let alone one delivered on time, on budget and to the benefit of the Eastern County.

    Yet all this is in stark contrast to the Council’s infinitely more successful twin, Cheshire West, with their hyper-successful Cheshire Oaks that draws shoppers and visitors from far and wide yet still magically sustains a vibrant Chester Town Centre while being only a stone’s throw away – a formula that defies all conventional town planning wisdom.

    Just compare the cultural marvel of the Chester Music Festival with its top-tier performers and international sponsorship to any of Cheshire East’s optimistic yet ultimately rather sad and self-conscious little events.

    The man-god we know as Jones would hide behind the front of crusader and protector of the East’s green-belt, then ride roughshod over local views when it suited him to approve and support totally unsuitable and wholly unsustainable development where I’m sure closer investigation might reveal an unsavoury agenda.

    His laughable dismissal of the millions wasted in the failure to produce the Eastern County’s Local Plan by pointing at the total value of the privately owned real estate as if it was his own rather than the crippling effect of constrained and capped council budgets was typical of the man.

    The man re-defined cronyism and ironically, made that his own, too. He laughably claims friends in high places by invoking the name of Margeret Thatcher and walking in the shadow behind George Osborne is China hardly qualifies. He was universally despised by his own Conservative local MPs who in turn, despair at Cheshire East as a body, despite its affluent revenue streams.

    The other irony is that it would be the paper media in the form of Private Eye that brought him down – not a local paper or public campaign. But maybe that’s understandable given that his only real success was in stifling local comment by assembling a veritable politburo of in-house lawyers and media people the envy of North Korea to protect and deflect any real local voice.

    I can only hope that his gutless and talentless acolytes who, rather than upholding the better qualities of a Tory party, seem more like characters from Toy Story (is that Tory Story?) slip back into the mire of oblivion from where Mr Jones plucked them and natural selection produces councillors who will release some of the potential that this great county and its wealth truly offers.

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