2018 has seen Bridgwater step up a gear as it strides proudly out onto the world stage with Its newfound wealth, prestige and influence (ref- The Gospel according to Sedgemoor District Council Dec 2018). It is surely no coincidence that in the same year that Bridgwater banned single use plastics, launched its first tourism brochure and elected its first Portuguese Mayor, an American spacecraft actually landed on the red planet and sent back to us the actual sound of wind on Mars, England came 2nd in the commonwealth games and Leeds United are deservedly at the top of the Championship. All mankind’s ills have been cured, everybody agrees with each other about Brexit and climate catastrophe is further away than it ever was. Apart from here on earth.
In January a minor explosion rocked Bridgwater’s dockside area. No-one could explain it. Turkey invaded Kurdistan just to be on the safe side, the US Government shut down in case they were being overrun by Mexicans and Jacob Zuma resigned as President of South Africa.
By February EDF had opened up its long-awaited Park and Ride in the nearby ski resort of Cannington, sadly slightly too far away to be of any use to the competitors taking part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Yet again Norway topped the medals table – How could we let this happen? We need more snow in England!!
In March it snowed. And it snowed. And it snowed. In fact, it became a severe weather warning – which in recent years in Somerset usually meant a centimetre of frost and all businesses closed while an emergency radio station is set up to warn people not to try walking up Willoughby road. But this time the country shivered and devious (probably foreign) do-badders leapt into action. Russian spies poisoned one another in West Wiltshire and then appeared on our TV reading from the Salisbury Guide Book while their President Mr Putin was elected for a record 4th time. In Somerset we weren’t going to be deflected. We officially opened the Northgate school and approved the Fore Street enhancements whether there were Russian agents lurking in the Brewery Field or not. Then with a defiant clenched fist, Sedgemoor District Council unanimously passed Cllr Kathy Pearce’s motion on single use plastics. Meanwhile, Somerset MP Jacob Rees Mogg explained that although his Hedge Fund company did invest in Russia it wasn’t him that took those kind of decisions.
April in Bridgwater saw yet more big changes. The Men’s Shed opened along the canal bank providing an outlet for a wealth of untapped male talent and the Colley Lane Relief road, promised since the invention of tarmac, was announced to be ‘near completion’. Meanwhile at Britain’s first Art Centre in Castle Street the last of the 46’ers, John Allen, sadly passed away. In his honour, probably, at the Commonwealth Games, England dropped from 1st to 2nd place .
May saw another first for Bridgwater as 28 year old Diogo Rodrigues became Britains first Portuguese born Mayor. Bridgwater’s own youngest, gayest, debatably shortest and certainly most Portuguese, Mayor hit the ermine running and proceeded to drag the Mayoralty ‘Lindy-Hopping’ into the 21st century. Within days Portugal had won the Eurovision song contest, Ireland had ended it’s ban on abortion and the USA and North Korea had made peace with each other in Singapore. But something wasn’t right, Somerset’s Socialist community had organised a May day rally in Wells – the first for 24 years. Some 200 people marched through the town and they were angry. About something. But what?
As June turned into a lot hot Summer of Portuguese weather , the Town’s threatened post office got a stay of execution and Bridgwater finally got back its New Marks and Spencers. Yet things started to take a turn for the worse. France won the football world cup in Russia, the otherwise totally rational (sic) President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran while moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and at the same time withdrew his country from the UN Human Rights Council and then Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose this, of all times, to get married. Canada was so depressed with the situation around the world that it legalised cannabis.
But Bridgwater was undeterred and, as it does, in July ‘had a party’. This time the ‘Quayside Festival’. Saudi Arabia was so impressed by the potential of this celebration of cross dressing that they decided to allow women to drive cars. But something was not quite right and danger loomed ahead. The Tory Government was implicated in the Windrush scandal and so naturally devoted much of the Summer pointing anti-semitic fingers at lifelong anti semitic campaigner Jeremy Corbyn. Then Brexit reared its head. Boris Johnson constantly manuevering for his eventual takeover, resigned as foreign secretary. People thought ‘good god, was he actually our foreign secretary!’. But, never one to make rash promises, he immediatly promised a ‘bonfire of EU regulations’, whilst advocating a new Royal Yacht. That’s Britain ‘taking back control’ and getting it’s priorities right. Then again, it was Boris who spent £320,000 on water cannon when he was Mayor of London…. So what does he know that we don’t? And to demonstrate how awful all these Europeans were, back in Bridgwater some Polish immigrants opened up a new restaurant on the banks of our river. Coming over here, taking our closed pubs and turning them into working restaurants!! The nerve!!
In August it was the National Health Services 70th birthday and the town celebrated. The local Labour Party sent it a ‘get well soon’ card. The Town Bridge was lit up – as were the shopping trolleys in the river and Mayor Diogo went into cyberspace with his ‘Mayor Live’ show on Facebook attracting 1,000s of viewers. But more alarm bells were still ringing -this time at County Hall, where Labour Group Leader , Bridgwater Councillor Leigh Redman, warned of an impending £14.3m deficit in children’s services for the Tory run administration. Years of austerity, Government cuts and failure to raise local precepts were coming home to roost.
Things looked gloomier as September nights drew in. The Tories at county admitted their situation and announced massive cuts with some 130 jobs at risk. Tory Leader David Fothergill accepted the cuts would be “Hard to deliver and difficult to stomach”. He went to Westminster to see what his Government could do to help. Theresa May, happily dancing on the stage at the Tory conference, would soon be too preoccupied with Brexit to care. The country was descending into the doldrums symbolised by the hideous sight of deranged Ukippers burning a cardboard effigy of Grenfell Towers at a Garden Party.
In October Chancellor Phil Hammond’s sham ‘austerity is over’ budget speech was overshadowed by the latest Brexit Secretary (this time Dominic Raab) to leave. Not Europe, but the cabinet. 700,000 people marched through London protesting against Brexit -the most attended protest of the 21st century since the anti-Iraq War march in 2003. The local TV homed in on Bridgwater every time Brexit was in the news as ‘the most Brexit voting place in Somerset’ to get our views. In Bridgwater we were holding a charity football match against Syrian refugees because we’re like that. 3.2 to Bridgwater with Town Council Leader Brian Smedley scoring the winning goal.
November is always a big month in Bridgwater and this year’s carnival , which included a Montenegrin entry, coincided with the first Bridgwater Tourism Brochure. The new Mercure Hotel opened in Eastover – so good they opened it twice. Although it did need Sedgemoor District Council to lend it £500,000. But it meant Bridgwater was on the up. We celebrated our Bridgwater History day at the Art Centre, we opened the doors of the Engine Room to the local migrant community with our ‘Bridgwater Together’ celebration and we gathered in larger numbers than ever to see our Mayor lay a wreath at the War memorial to honour the memory of the people of all nations who died in the First World war exactly 100 years ago. And in this supposedly ‘Brexit loving town’ we watched as the Government descended into chaos. Theresa May had leapt into the trenches that had split the Tory Party since (and before) the decision of her predecesor Cameron to call an ill thought out referendum and immediatly botched it. UKIP, previously the catalyst of all things Brexit, now collapsed as they brought in far right street fighter Tommy Robinson as their adviser on ‘islamic matters’ leading to the resignation of,comparatively liberal, ex leader Nigel Farage, while the ‘official’ Tories argued about whether we could solve the Northern Irish border issue by having another Irish famine or by replacing their own leader (if that’s what the Blood and Horror revivalists of the DUP wanted). It was time for a no-deal-no-confidence Tory faction and where was the man of the moment? Why, you only had to turn over some 18th century stone and there he was. Jacob Rees Mogg, a man who had ‘stand up to the elite’ written all over him. Only with ‘to’ crossed out and ‘for’ scribbled in above. With a quill probably.
December in Bridgwater saw the end of an era. Town Clerk and footballing legend Alan Hurford, stood down and was replaced by Langport’s finest, Mr David Mears. A man 320 years his junior. Russia took its opportunity to seize Ukrainian shipping in the Black Sea while Britain tried to calm things down by sending its own gunships to the area. In France yellow vested protestors took to the streets forcing the Macron Government to alternatively stand up to them with extreme violence, or give in to them, with extreme change of policy. But in Sedgemoor the ruling Tories knew which side of the Parish boundary their bread was buttered on. At their Economic Development Conference, ‘Challenging Perceptions’, a shout was given out to the wonderfully promising future prosperity of the District. Only, they didn’t mention the wonderful prosperity of their own Executive members who they shortly afterwards awarded a 36% rise to, challenging absolutely no perceptions at all…….
So that was 2018. A year full of promise, hope and wonderment only to be brought crashing down to earth by the lords of chaos. Who we seem to have elected at the moment. But 2019 is an election year………….so lets get THIS ONE RIGHT……PLEASE……