The growing secret society influence at the heart of West Northants Council
Half of the male cabinet members are thought to be Freemasons
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By Natalie Bloomer
Concerns are growing over the influence a secret society has within West Northants Council as NN Journal reveals that forty percent of cabinet roles are now filled by Freemasons.
The ten cabinet positions are made up of eight men and two women with half of those men thought to be Freemasons.
Leader of the council Jonathan Nunn and cabinet member for community safety David Smith have both declared their membership of the secretive organisation. Cllr Malcolm Longley, who is in charge of finance, hasn’t declared his membership but is listed as a director of the Lutterworth Masonic Lodge at Companies House.
NN Journal also understands that the recently appointed cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Daniel Lister is also a Freemason although he hasn’t declared this and when we asked him he refused to comment.
Cllr Lister’s appointment came after the surprise loss of Cllr Lizzy Bowen from the cabinet, a move which raised eyebrows on all sides due to him being a relatively new councillor with no apparent experience in regeneration.
Other Freemasons with prominent roles at WNC are independent Cllr Ian McCord and Cllr Suresh Patel.
McCord, who is the former leader of South Northants Council, was suspended from the Conservatives due to allegations made against him but was recently made chair of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee after being cleared by the party.
Cllr Patel is chair of the Democracy and Standards Committee and is also said to have a wide ranging influence among the council leadership.
Concerns are now being raised across the political divide over what councillors are choosing to declare and how much influence the Freemasons have, with some also calling on council officers to publicly declare if they are members of the organisation.
Leader of the West Northants Labour group, Wendy Randall, said:
“I think both councillors and officers should have to declare if they are Freemasons, I see no reason why anyone would refuse.
“People already have doubts about the conduct of councillors so to have so many cabinet members being part of a secret society is worrying. I’ve had members of the public asking me about this, one asked me if the Freemasons are running the council.”
Several Conservative Party sources told NN Journal they also have concerns and said it was an issue being discussed among members.
Many also raised the issue of gender imbalance in senior positions at the council. When asked if the prominence of the Freemasons impacts this (women are banned from joining male lodges so can not make the same professional connections) one Conservative councillor said:
“I can only speak for myself and I haven’t encountered any barriers but if those barriers exist, it is an issue and if it [Freemasons membership] is not being declared that’s also an issue and it’s right that it is being highlighted now - that’s what we have the press for.”
There is currently no legal requirement on councillors to declare membership of the Freemasons, something which has led to rumours circulating about who is and isn’t part of the organisation. Deputy leader of the Lib Dem group Jonathan Harris, says this is part of the problem and believes that not declaring it leads to mistrust.
“I think there is an issue around what should be declared, there are a number of councillors that have asked why you don’t have to declare a Freemasons membership but you do with other organisations, charities and unions.”
The Freemasons have long faced accusations about the influence they have in certain areas of public life such as politics and policing. However, the organisation denies this and has made attempts in recent years to appear more open and move attention to the charity work it does.
Leader of the council Jonathan Nunn said:
“Membership of any organisation, charity, golf club, rotary club, trade union, etc. plays no part in appointing cabinet members. Rather, when we have a position to fill, the over-riding issue is appointing on merit. This includes capability, and transferable skills to do the job, as very few people come to being a councillor with completely direct experience of a cabinet area - they are ‘men & women in the street’ who are elected as councillors.
“Our cabinet comes from a wide range of backgrounds and each must bring their own diverse set of life experiences. Council officers are the professionals in each area, with councillors being the public’s representatives. So firstly, we demand a huge time commitment from cabinet members, and tell them in advance that it’s essential they make a commitment to 30…40 or more hours of council work per week, whether daytime, late evenings or weekends. We also need to be assured that they have evidenced enthusiasm, drive and a passion for achieving through a cabinet area.
“A strong cabinet allows for plenty of differences of opinion and individual views, but it is essential that each member contributes to the team spirit, supports colleagues in their various areas as well as working in his/her own area, and it is essential that they are trusted by cabinet colleagues, so that discussions are supportive, and that bold ideas can be discussed in complete confidence and developed into something that might then be worthy of sharing more widely, otherwise there’s no innovation and transformation of the council’s performance. An administration will never deliver the best it can for its residents if there is any lack of trust within the cabinet.
“Neither can anybody expect to join the Cabinet if they do not have the respect and recognition of the 65 members of our conservative group, and prove able to build that same respect with council officers and opposition councillors when in the cabinet.
“Culture is also extremely important, and I believe that we’ve started to demonstrate during the first year of WNC that we consider that vital, to create a positive environment for staff and councillors, knowing that we all work better if we feel valued and appreciated, well-treated, empowered, supported, so cabinet members must demonstrate these values with everybody that they come into contact with, whilst constructively challenging our officers, so that our residents get the very best service from WNC. Nobody gets a cabinet job unless we are convinced that they can fulfil all of these points.
“Being a Cabinet member is therefore not just a huge privilege, it’s an opportunity to work hard; really hard, and to be directly accountable every single day for your results, and it’s certainly not decided by any sort of favouritism, random choice, or because of some membership or other! I didn’t know Dan Lister until a few weeks before the 2021 WNC election but in the past year, and since taking on the cabinet role, he has proven he meets our high standards. Ultimately, a huge responsibility rests on my own and cabinet members’ shoulders to deliver for west Northants, and I/we would rightly be challenged by NN Journal and everybody else if we did not deliver, so in taking that responsibility, it naturally falls to me to me choose those who I believe can best deliver.”
You can read more about the Freemasons here: https://www.nnjournal.co.uk/p/special-report-the-masonic-presence