Colchester High Steward Sir Bob Russell, who was mayor in 1986-87, gives his views on the historic decision to cancel the ceremony to appoint a new mayor, which was due to be held last Wednesday. It has been blocked because of the restrictions on public gatherings caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This is the second of three instalments he has written so that what has happened is made known to people today – and to provide a contemporary account for social historians in years to come when they may puzzle as to what happened to the historic position during the 2020-21 mayoral year..


THE last time Colchester did not appoint a new mayor was in 1940 when, with German forces poised to invade the United Kingdom, it was agreed the mayor should remain in office.

In my previous article, I questioned why Colchester Council had not agreed for councillor Nick Cope to remain in office for a further 12 months, as is happening in Ipswich, which is the nearest borough to Colchester which has a mayor.

I pointed out that the decision had not been taken by all 51 borough councillors but, for the first time in the 385 years that Colchester has had a mayor, the decision was taken by a council officer under emergency regulations because of the pandemic.

But does anyone seriously accept that this was an emergency, such that democratic decision-making could be so easily discarded?

Councillors are the elected representatives of the people, let it not be forgotten.

Why are they not making decisions? Where is the democratic accountability?

The national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic should not be an excuse or justification to over-ride decisions being made democratically.

Is all this really important? Some may think not.

Those who believe in the concept of democracy (more than half the world’s population do not live in democracies) should.

Doubly so if you think our heritage and traditions are important.

The office of mayor in Colchester is significantly older than any other borough in Essex.

The position of mayor is not just as the borough’s first citizen, with the honour and prestige that goes with it.

The mayor is the head of the council and everything that goes with local democracy.

Trampling over the appointment of the mayor is trampling over the whole concept of democratic accountability and democratic decision-making.

My advice is that councillors should calmly reflect, then assert the powers which they have but which have been brushed aside in such a cavalier fashion.

A wrong decision can be put right. If the will is there!

Officers should advise – councillors should decide.


Some councils are boroughs and have a mayor.

Others are districts and have a chairman. The functions are the same.

Five have agreed that the existing mayor (three) and chairman (two) should continue for a further period of 12 months (same as Ipswich).

Three will “wait and see” – and in the meantime the existing mayor (one) and chairman (two) will continue (the same as Norwich with the Lord Mayor).

Five new people - three new chairmen and two new mayors - took over this month.

No other council in Essex has taken the decision Colchester has.