Two members of Torridge District Council have resigned from the Conservative Party. Cllr Kathy Murdoch, of Kenwith Ward, and Cllr Gaye Tabor, of Coham Bridge Ward, will now sit as independents in protest against freemasons.
Cllr Tabor unsuccessfully challenged the Conservative Group Deputy Leader at a group meeting preceding the Council AGM and was unsuccessful. Regardless of this she then decided to put her name forward for Deputy Leader of the Council, with opposition support. When she failed to be elected Deputy Leader of the Council Cllr Murdoch stormed out of the chamber stating she could not work with a Mason controlled council.
The Conservative council leader Cllr Barry Parsons defends his right to be a Mason.
"I joined the Masons, although I have only been to three meetings in the last 12 months because I have been busy.
"If that offends people, well there is no politics involved and I have not used it to my advantage."
Deputy Council leader Cllr Roger Johnson, who is not a Mason, said:
"Neither councillor was particularly happy at the annual council meeting, it is just unfortunate.
"I certainly hope it won't affect council meetings.
"It is quite above board to belong to the Masons and the organisation is a very different animal to what it was 40 to 50 years ago.
"I have never had a suspicion that things have gone one way because councillors were members of the Masons.
"We are very fortunate at Torridge. We have 36 councillors who are doing their best for their communities."
In total five Torridge councillors are Masons, as declared in the register of interests. As it happens all are Conservatives.
What is wrong with being a Mason? I'm not one, I'm afraid, but it sounds rather fun. All very Big Society. A bit of a grown ups version of the boy scouts. Lots of ritual and tradition. Dinners and charitable giving. A mildly religious aspect but you just have to believe in a "supreme being". Most members are Christian but you can be a Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist…
Of course it could be the case that a councillor would be on some committee for a planning application, licensing application, adoption panel or whatever and not declare that they knew the applicant through being a member of masonic lodge. That would be a breach of the rules. But then again the same could be true of 100 other ways that a councillor might know the applicant. The offence of them not declaring it would be no greater or lesser. Why pick on the Masons for a presumption of guilt? Why not a golf club, a rotary club, a church? Why suggest that there is something more sinister, secretive or indicative of corruption about the freemasons?
Bernard Levin used to be very good on this in The Times:
"Freemasonry hysteria … is paralleled to the same principles as those of anti-Semitism, and indeed it has often been to a very considerable extent a stalking-horse for the more ancient vileness. It could hardly be otherwise; attacks on suspect Jewry have almost always been inextricably entwined with anti freemasonry. Hitler lumped them together without distinction of any kind. Thousands of freemasons from Germany, Vichy France and Nazi-occupied Europe were killed in the gas chambers."