Sir Peter Soulsby’s Reign: The Relevance of King Richard III Today

Democracy is a word that establishment politicians toss around like so much confetti to mark their matrimony with capitalism. This is problematic, especially for elected Labour Party representatives, as capitalism clearly vows that profit must always trump human need. As such, capitalism is not an ideology that sits well with democratic processes – whereby democracy, as commonly understood, represents political or social equality, exhibited by a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people.

Autocrats like Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby are none too fond of democracy either, which explains why, in 2011, he jumped at the chance to become Leicester’s inaugural City Mayor. Reporting on the Mayoral issue soon after Sir Peter’s assumption of power, the Guardian (April 24) drew attention to the obvious truth that Sir Peter was “now effectively piloting Conservative plans for elected mayors in England’s 12 largest cities.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Sir Peter even argued that the American-style Mayoral system that he had adopted with no democratic mandate was a “democratic way to provide leadership”. Apparently, when “People [i.e.  capitalists] come to the UK” Sir Peter explained, they “don’t want to meet the ‘man with the chain’ [the ceremonial lord mayor]. What a potential investor in Leicester wants to meet is the person who can deliver.”

But Mayoral systems are hardly popular, let alone democratic. Indeed a national poll determined that “by a near two-to-one margin of 61% to 34% voters say they would rather stick with ‘a local council mostly run by councillors from political parties that have a local majority’ than adopt ‘a directly elected mayor’ to run things in their area” (26 April 2012, Guardian).

The people of Leicester, of course, were never asked whether they wanted a City Mayor. Instead, the decision was undemocratically imposed them by Sir Peter and his power-hungry clique.

This brings me to the current anti-democratic dispute that Sir Peter has with the Highfields Community Association — all seemingly originating from Sir Peter’s discontent with the Association’s attempt to operate democratically (that is, independent of his own interfering).

A just-published seventy-six page report commissioned by Highfields Community Association — titled In Search of ‘Good Faith’ — draws attention to the City Mayor’s abuse of his new-found executive power. The report concludes that, as far as Leicester City Council “is concerned, the picture emerging from this review is that of a city run not by a Council of elected representatives/councillors who make decisions collectively in the interest of the entire city… but by one person to whom everyone else answers, including elected councillors.”

A strong case is presented therein that democracy has suffered a vicious assault from the imposition of the recently enthroned Mayor. Sir Peter’s unaccountable authority is also appropriately likened to that exerted by King Richard III (whose remains were recently unearthed in Leicester). The report draws particular attention to an article published a few months ago in the New York Times, which contrasted the reign of the “loathsome, perverse monster” known as King Richard III (as depicted in Shakespeare’s famous play Richard III) with the recent Presidential debacle that subsequently brought Trump to power. The Times notes how:

“Richard, as Shakespeare conceived him, was inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage… Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.”

As Shakespeare’s play makes clear, the King’s ‘successful’ albeit brief rule relied entirely upon the “self-destructive responses from those around him,” whose unwillingness to hold him to account meant they served as his “enablers.” As the article in the New York Times observes, various categories of these “enablers” sustained the King’s unjust monarchy, some of whom included:

  • “…those who trust that everything will continue in a normal way, that promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected.”
  • others who “are drawn irresistibly to normalize what is not normal.”
  • “…those who feel frightened or impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence.”
  • and “there are those who persuade themselves that they can take advantage of Richard’s rise to power…These allies and followers help him ascend from step to step, collaborating in his dirty work and watching the casualties mount with cool indifference. They are, as Shakespeare imagines it, among the first to go under, once Richard has used them to obtain his end.”

peter-soulsby-as-king-richard-iii

Like King Richard III, Sir Peter is surrounded by such problematic enablers — some of whom were identified in the Highfields Community Association report as local Labour councillors who had a “palpable fear” of Sir Peter “and of the consequences for themselves if they were to ‘go against him’ in any way.” This is quite unfortunate, especially as it is the people of Leicester who are forced to bear the brunt of the ignoble inaction of Sir Peter’s enablers. That is why Leicester has no need for Labour councillors who are too scared to publicly question Sir Peter’s bullying ways.

By means of redressing the democratic concerns raised in this article and within the report In Search of ‘Good Faith,’ it would seem appropriate that the City Mayoral system should be abandoned forthright to enable a semblance of democracy to return to Leicester. Then as a first act of defiance of Sir Peter’s dictatorial rule, Labour councillors could openly give their support to Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist leadership of the Labour Party; and then, perhaps, they might consider refusing to carry through Tory austerity by launching a city-wide fightback against Tory cuts!

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2 comments

  1. I wrote a letter to the Leicester Mercury back in 2011 making an oblique comment on the state of lical politics in the city. Unfortunately the way the letter was edited made a mockery on the point I was trying to get across!

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