Interview: You will never find a prouder clockpelter than Jeff

Coun Jeff Thompson. 450D
Coun Jeff Thompson. 450D
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Today there is only one councillor left on South Kesteven District Council who was there at the birth of the authority in 1974 - Councillor Jeff Thompson.

This week we caught up with Great Gonerby’s proudest son and greatest supporter at his home in Belton Lane, Great Gonerby, to discuss politics, clockpelters and much more.

Q) As a farmer it must be a busy time of year for you. Are you from a family of farmers?

A) No. I’m essentially from a butchering family as my grandfather was the village butcher. It was my father who was the first to venture down the farming line. I was born in 1943 and my father took the farm as a tenant in 1937. I got into it after that and have since bought the farm but this will be the end of the line as neither of my children are going into farming at all. But, while I can, I’ll keep at it.

Q) When did you first become involved in politics?

A) I became a parish councillor in 1970 - I was persuaded reluctantly to stand for West Kesteven Rural District Council in 1971. It was only supposed to be temporary until the elections when someone would take my place but that has never happened! I was on West Kesteven District Council from 1971 to 1974 and then South Kesteven District Council from 1974 to the present day. I’m the only founder member of South Kesteven District Council left.

Q) Have you always been an independent?

A) I was a Conservative councillor from 1974 up until around 1988 when I had a tremendous row - not just locally but nationally - over the right to buy council houses. I never did agree and still don’t agree with the sale of council houses. They were built for people who did not want or could not afford a mortgage which is a lot of people in this county. I got a letter from Lord Strathclyde saying ‘toe the party line or that’s it’ so I wrote a letter back saying ‘that’s it then’. I’ve been an independent ever since.

Q) Have you enjoyed your time in local politics?

A) It will be 40 years next year and I would not change it for anything else. I wouldn’t have carried on doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. But I don’t derive as much pleasure as I once did quite simply because I don’t like the cabinet system. I don’t believe it to be democratic or right that six or seven people are taking the decisions. It seems absolutely nuts to me. Previously every decision went before the full council every six weeks where it could be scrutinised and pulled apart. Nowadays it doesn’t seem to work at all. The decision is taken and if you disagree with it what’s the point? The very same cabinet is going to take the ultimate decision anyway. We should go back to the committee system which worked. Also, we do not get the best people for the right job with the cabinet system. For example, I would have been the best cabinet member for culture, sport and the arts. I know that but I have never been given the opportunity because I’m not a Conservative anymore. The committees used to select their own chair and leaders so the best person was selected by the people they were going to lead. That’s where the cabinet system falls flat. But it was forced upon us. There is a move to get back to a committee system. It won’t work but it’s worth a try, without a doubt.

Q) You’ve always been quite outspoken about party politics within the council...

A) I can’t stand politics in local government and don’t understand why it is seen to be necessary. We are all trying to achieve the same objective and trying to do the best for the electorate and you shouldn’t need to take the party line locally to do that.

Q) Has it changed much over the years?

A) The camaraderie was so much different back then. You could argue like hell with someone in the chamber but then still go and have a drink with them afterwards. That’s how it should be. There seems to be much more animosity now which is not my way of doing things.

Q) What are the highlights of your time at SKDC?

A) The Meres was certainly one of them. I’m very proud of the Meres. I’m not talking about how it’s run from time to time but we still have the finest leisure facility at the Meres in the East Midlands with the leisure centre and the stadium. It’s magnificent and a lot of cities would be proud of what we have up there. The cost to the council taxpayer was around £250,000 for a £10 million project. We got around £3 million from the lottery on the understanding it had to be for a new build and £6 million from Asda for the old site. Although, I have to say, if I had my time over I would love to do what we have done in Grantham without using supermarket money.

The other major one I remain proud of is I chaired the committee that brought CCTV to Grantham. I just think CCTV has been a godsend to the police in keeping criminal activity down and detection. However, a disappointment at the time was the number of people who came on board - the police, the hospital, the railways - saying they would contribute but in the end SKDC ended up carrying the entire can even though it must have saved the police an absolute fortune.

Q) Any other regrets?

A) The approach to the town centre from the station is awful so a big disappointment was being turned down by the Government inspectorate on station approach. It will still be done, believe me. When you get impediments like that, old sods like me say ‘right, we’ll still get there’. It strengthens your resolve. But it’s a shame they did what they did because the work would be quite far on.

Q) You are a Gonerby councillor but are you still interested in the future of Grantham too?

A) Of course. Myself and Nick Craft have been to almost all of the Grantham Area Action Plan meetings. But some of the Charter Trustees have a shocking attendance record. I’m supposed to be a rural councillor but it’s my hometown and I want to be part of it. The Charter Trustees don’t seem to be as interested as they should be in my view...they would disagree, no doubt.

Q) Are you proud to be from Great Gonerby?

A) I’m an extremely proud clockpelter. I was born in the village and my family has been traced back to 1560 which is when the church records started.

I’m immensely proud of my village and of having been born here and having such a long, long line here. It’s never been a chocolate box village but it’s my village and I love the place. I could have a fortnight’s holiday in Gonerby and I would be quite happy. So I am proud to be from Great Gonerby - always pronounced Gunerby - and I’m just proud to have gone down the road I’ve gone down.

Q) If I was lucky enough to have my life over again I’d do the same.

A) I can’t disappear before asking you this final question. Why are people from Gonerby caller clockpelters?

There are several stories behind it. Which one’s right, I don’t know. One was that the farm workers used to throw mud at the thing to try and push it on so they can go home early. I find that one hard to believe. The second was people throwing pebbles at the clock from the pond and if you could do that you were a man. It would take some man to do it because it’s a long way. I can remember being at school and bigger lads throwing snowballs onto the clock face quite easily. I remember they froze on once and the clock stopped.