Political battlefield of alderman Terry
Fred Hughes talks politics in times past with one of the city's most respected former councillors.
U NTIL 1974 one of the most influential figures in local politics was the alderman.1974 was the year Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle's independent powers were transferred to the county council and the role of alderman was abolished.
Centre of line-up as chairman of Staffs County Fire and Rescue Service 1984, Fire Chief Peter Reid sits to his left. Below, Dave Follows' cartoon of Terry Crowe during the campaign against opencasting at Berryhill Fields 1989-1992.
"Aldermen were elected exclusively by councillors," says former county councillor Terry Crowe.
"It was an antiquated position revived by Victorian reform laws to allow a party that narrowly lost an election to retain control by choosing aldermen from those members who'd lost their seats. Interestingly, if the position had not been abolished I may have held the one position in politics that has eluded me, that of Lord Mayor."
Because of misuse it was decided in 1910 not to allow aldermen a vote. This wasn't a problem in Stoke-on-Trent for, until the 1990s, Labour was the electorate's popular choice. And so the position of alderman was made to keep the experience of semi-retired politicians.
"Councils can still create honorary aldermen as a reward for good service," says Terry.
"But it is rarely used these days. The most recent occasion was in 1999 when Staffordshire County Council paid tribute to the last councillors of Stoke-on-Trent who'd served until the unitary authority came into force. I am really honoured to have received this tribute."
Terry, aged 63, was born in Trent Vale, the middle one of three children, and has overcome many difficulties relating to his health.
"I contracted polio when I was two" he recalls. "The illness paralysed me; in fact I was quite disabled until I was 12. I became a glassblower when I left school before meeting my wife Linda. But ultimately my working life was spent as an engineer at Simon-Hartley's in Etruria."
T his was also the beginning of Terry's career in politics, when he became a shop steward for AEUW. Soon he began meeting with local members of the Labour Party.
"I was 29 and at a union conference in Stone when I met the party's regional chairman, Jack Bradshaw. He was surprised I wasn't a member and introduced me to the local branch secretary who actually lived two doors away from me. I've been a member now for over 30 years," he says.
Terry became one of the youngest county councillors in 1979 in a by-election for the Hartshill ward.
"Hartshill has always had an unpredictable electorate," says Terry.
"Within the space of two years the Liberals lost to the Conservatives who in turn lost to Labour when I won the seat. I was later elected for the Berryhill Ward which is where I live."
Between 1974 and 1997 the county council controlled Stoke-on-Trent's major spending powers. Terry soon discovered he was competing with experienced politicians, many who went on to become MPs.
"In the 1980's the Labour Party took control of the county council which provided the opportunity to advance my career," he says.
"I became chairman of the County Fire and Rescue service, and in politics I became chief whip. I had a great relationship with the fire chiefs Peter Reid and Peter Dale.
"Then in 1995 the Environment Act was introduced which created a number of new agencies and set new standards for environmental management. I became the chairman of this committee taking responsibility for waste disposal and building a new incinerator in Stoke.
A fierce opponent to landfill and opencast mining, as the local ward councillor Terry joined the campaign to protect Berryhill Fields.
"Berryhill Fields are the lungs of the Potteries," he says passionately.
"In 1986 the Coal Board was intent on tearing up the fields, but the community became organised to oppose it and we won. I can't tell you how important it was to save those fields for the Berryhill community.
"Upon appeal we submitted over 5,000 individually written letters to support our case. This clearly impressed the commissioner when the appeal was heard at Stoke Town Hall in 1993."
Because of his acquired experience Terry was elected to become vice-chairman of the county council in the final four years of the city's presence there. But when that ended, Terry came back to Stoke-on-Trent's new unitary authority as a ward councillor.
"Returning to the city was difficult. Although we had four years to prepare for it I don't think we were fully ready for all the implications. In similar ways I don't think we prepared properly for the elected mayor in 2002."
Becoming Lord Mayor though, was another matter. "I value the Lord Mayoralty immensely," he says.
"I was deputy Lord Mayor in 2003 and was the Lord Mayor-elect. Unfortunately I lost my seat that year. But that's politics for you. There's nothing you can do about it when the people decide."