It takes a certain persona to succeed in politics, whether that’s at national or local level. Quite simply, Brian Silvester was made for the role. Nearly 40 years with the Conservative Party and continued commitment to local councils is testament to his staying power and desire to serve. He has enjoyed triumphs and endured disappointment – but there are no regrets…
Born in the house next to the landmark Churches Mansions building in Nantwich, the first tentative steps into education for Brian were at Manor Road School. “I wasn’t at all keen on my first day. I was just five years old and took my opportunity to slip out and run all the way home. They made sure it didn’t happen on my second day, and if similar occurred at a school these days there would be uproar.” It makes for an amusing anecdote for a man who would later serve as a lay inspector of schools and also champion education during his year as mayor of Crewe & Nantwich!
Nantwich and Acton Grammar School provided a good grounding for further education but it was not what the young man craved. “I joined the Young Conservatives when I was 17 years old and chose to leave education, initially working for my father in his Nantwich butcher’s shop. I set up my own butcher’s business in Crewe Market in the early 1970s but by then I had become very active in local politics. That’s what really excited me. The new Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council was formed in 1974, and I stood for council in 1976, in the Shavington ward. Winning the seat was fantastic and I knew then that I’d be in politics for the long haul. I was only 24 so it was an exciting time. We took over from Labour and I was deputy chairman of a committee. It was a steep learning curve. In fact, there hadn’t been a Conservative in Shavington before. It had always been an Independent ward. A few party members were worried about rocking the boat, but I won and never looked back.”
The swing to the Conservatives provided the new councillor and his party with a number of meaty issues that provoked much debate. In fact, without some tough and momentous decision-making, an historic part of the town’s landscape could have changed forever. “The railway cottages off Chester Street were earmarked for demolition by the Labour administration following years of slum clearance. People didn’t want the cottages to go, so in 1976 we helped to save a vital piece of Crewe’s heritage. That’s something I have always been proud about.”
Like many councils around the country, power switched between the political parties over subsequent decades. With Labour dominant in the 1990s and early part of the new century, the Crewe & Nantwich Conservatives had a battle on their hands convincing the voting public that change was required. The area had additional Labour influence in the form of local MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, who had been in power from 1974. Ultimately, a controversial civic decision was the catalyst for change. “In 2006, as part of the proposals for a new shopping area, the Labour administration tried to push through the move of the Britannia War Memorial from Market Square to the Municipal Square. The people of Crewe did not want that and they told us on the doorsteps as we campaigned. I think that the Labour party in Crewe & Nantwich had become complacent, whereas we had fresh ideas. We had to work hard but the time for change was right. We kept council tax charges down and still managed to sort out the mess surrounding the war memorial. Initially, I was against moving the memorial. But you must listen to the people. It is now in a fitting place and looks stunning, but the way it was moved was wrong.”
In 2008 a decision was taken to alter the structure of local government, and with it came a controversial decision. Cheshire County Council would become two unitary authorities, with Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council and other authorities to be abolished. As such, it would be the last opportunity for one senior councillor to be mayor of the old borough. To much furore from opposition councillors a change to the convention was made that saw Brian installed as mayor. “I didn’t see it as being controversial or wrong, it was an amendment to the convention and it was voted through democratically. I was the longest serving councillor and I believe that it was the correct decision in light of the old borough coming to an end. Not everyone liked it, but that’s politics. I have no regrets.”
Whatever the circumstances nobody could suggest that the last mayor of CNBC took his responsibilities lightly, recording 330 appearances at local events, supporting charities and organisations and promoting activities around the towns and villages. It was a humbling experience for the hardened politician. “You don’t fully appreciate how much voluntary work goes on until you see it for yourself, every day of the week. There are some wonderful people out there. What stood out for me were the amazing acts of kindness that people do on a daily basis. There are thousands of unsung heroes, all trying to make a difference. The role of mayor is to support these people and recognise what they do. It was a privilege wearing the chain.”
Mayoral duties aside, the arrival of Cheshire East Council brought a new role and fresh hope for Brian. “Only one government minister wanted to split Cheshire and yet it went through. Far from being a problem, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone like me, helping to shape a new council from the start. I’m a politician through to my fingertips so this is what I’m in politics for. And there’s a real opportunity for Crewe as part of Cheshire East. It’s a huge authority, the third largest in the North West region and ninth largest in the country. Crewe is its biggest town and it has the industry, jobs and connections to become a major player in this part of the country. I want to be part of that challenge and hope to be associated with the new council for some time. The potential of Crewe is remarkable and if Cheshire East is to move forward then Crewe has to be involved and allowed to play a significant part.”
For this to happen, and for Crewe to truly shine, a mayoral theme must be realised. “Crewe has needs, and there is recognised deprivation. It will need a lot of emphasis placed upon it and its services. During my time as mayor, the adopted theme for the year was Lifelong Learning. The standard of education is something that must be improved in Crewe. With the two-tier system gone there’s an opportunity to take bold decisions and make things happen. The Ofsted league tables consistently show the Crewe schools behind those in, say, Nantwich and Sandbach. That’s not good enough and I want to see that situation reversed.”
So what does the councillor, one-time leader of the council and former mayor hope to be remembered for? “I never turn people away. I always try to help and I have a reputation for getting things done. So I hope that people appreciate what I have done and realise that I have done it for the people of Crewe and Nantwich. I would be happy with that because I have always wanted to help improve the area.”
Brian’s story first appeared in printed format back in 2009. He later became a UKIP councillor.
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