Eric Pickles was interviewed on Channel 4 today, defending the right of local councils to begin their meetings with Christian prayers. The Communities Secretary is often a half-hearted localist but half a heart is better than most politicians can muster. He is, of course, right that it should be for councils to make their own decisions about procedure.
In doing so, however, councils need also to consider their reputation. Bideford Town Council, in deciding to assert their rights in court rather than become an inclusive municipality, and then failing to win the case, have put their town on the map for all the wrong reasons. It’s now open season for cartoonists to question whether the town still has its stocks, and pillory, and ducking-stool. Maybe the occasional skimmity-ride. Can’t even rule out a witch-burning or two. ‘Bideford’ and ‘bigoted’ merge effortlessly in the headline-writer’s mind. And now that they’re fused, it’ll be no easy job to get them parted again.