One of this column’s principles is that no battle is too old to give up, and that we must keep alive the memories of former mistakes to prevent their like happening again. I will happily keep kicking the corpses of long-dead councillors and officials to remind their successors that the evil that men do lives after them, particularly where planning matters are concerned.
[For the benefit of those educated under Tony Blair, the quotation comes from a speech by Mark Antony after the murder of Julius Caesar, in a play of that name by a chap called Shakespeare]
Another of my principles is that I try to get my facts more or less right and to base my opinions on the facts. If I assert, as I often do, that the highways officers of Oxfordshire County Council are ignorant, insensate oafs without the cultural hinterland to understand what it is that they ruin with their street clutter, then I can back that assertion with an example or a photograph – several photographs in that particular case.
So I am put in a quandary by a correction received yesterday to my asserion that the ghastly Maureen Christian used her casting vote as Mayor to inflict on us the Islamic Centre on Marston Road (Labour’s win is Oxford’s loss). My correspondent tells me that Christian did not have to use her casting vote because the relevant motion – to re-open the already-granted planning consent following a change in the composition of the council – was tied anyway, and therefore failed.
The writer was clearly involved in the fight, and has no love for either the Islamic Centre or Maureen Christian, so I have to take some notice of what he says. I have watered down my original wording. I was, however, quite clear in my recollection that a casting vote was involved. Back to the sources or, at least, the next best thing, which is the Oxford Times.
Oxford Times – 21 July 2000
The go-ahead for Oxford’s controversial Islamic Centre was secured by the wafer-thin majority of one vote on Monday night.
The Lord Mayor, Mrs Maureen Christian, used her casting vote to allow the scheme to go ahead.
Oxford Times – 15 December 2000
On July 17 the new council split 22-22 over whether the matter should be referred back for futher consideration. The Lord Mayor, Ms Maureen Christian, used her casting vote in favour of the plan being approved
Oxford Times – 26 January 2001
Maureen Christian….said she gave her casting vote in favour of the Islamic Centre on planning grounds only.
So, I have some authority for the proposition that Maureen Christian used her casting vote and that her vote went against re-opening the debate over a development which was was strongly opposed – “This centre will change the skyline of Oxford forever, create more traffic and destroy a valuable site”, as Councillor Barbara Burgess said at the time.
My correspondent, however, may be right to say that casting vote (whether used or not) was not needed – the motion was to re-open the question and, the vote being tied, the motion was not carried. Whether she used her casting vote or not, Christian was the dominant – dominating might be a better word, or perhaps domineering – force in imposing this monstrous building on a hostile city.
The Islamic Centre is a blot on the skyline, monumental, out of place, uncharactistic of its environment and of the context and culture into which it was dumped. It could have been refused permission on any of those grounds and half the council thought that it should be. It was – and is – bitterly hated by those who lived near it. Maureen Christian’s contempt for the views of those whom she claimed to represent was entirely characteristic.
Socialist politicians seem to feel the need to upset those who like the status quo – offending them becomes an end in itself, quite separate from any benefits which may flow from the proposed change, just as Greens think that making other people feel uncomfortable is objectively virtuous. Maureen Christian seems to cherish her reputation as a fighter. Perhaps she genuinely thought that the Islamic Centre was a good idea, but the fact that many others disagreed was reason enough for her to push it through. Besides, like Oxfordshire’s highways officers, she is ignorant of what she destroyed.
Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and her voters threw her out in due course. Now, alas, the Caeucescu of Oxford politics is back.