The curious case of Rod Hills’

‘The curious case of Rod Hills’

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2nd May 2009 / Mike Laycock, Chief reporter

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HE led York’s council for 18 years before a dramatic fall from grace.

Now a research project into the political career of Rod Hills has been launched by a current Labour councillor and former University of York academic.

Dr Roger Pierce, who represents the Hull Road ward on City of York Council, claims that Coun Hills has been effectively “air-brushed from history” since his sudden fall from office following criminal charges.

The charges, which included blackmail, soliciting women and perverting the course of justice, were later dropped, and he claimed that he was the victim of a police witchhunt, which was denied by police. He died from natural causes in July 2003, in a flat in Chapeltown, Leeds, aged 57.

Dr Pierce says his post-doctoral research into the “curious case of Rod Hills CBE” will focus not on Coun Hills’s demise but his rise to power at a relatively young age, and his ability to transform York despite the constraints of a Conservative government.

“I’m intrigued by Rod Hills,” he said. “Partly because he became leader so early and held office for 18 years until his ‘darker side’ was exposed, and partly because he was a ‘transformational’ leader who was successful, in the words of the Guardian obituary, in “turning the city of York into a model of efficient, but socially concerned, local government.

“And it’s partly because, despite his achievements, he’s been air-brushed out of local history. If you go to the Guildhall, you won’t find any pictures of him hanging up.”

He said that Coun Hills had been leader of the council from 1984 until 2002 but was also a lecturer in economic history at the University of York.

“My work thus far shows that his long reign as leader was due to a wide range of factors, including the unpopularity of Mrs Thatcher when he first came to power in 1984, his intellect, charisma, political nouse, the lack of real competition in his own party and the opposition, and good luck.

“But I also suspect that he succeeded because of his attention to managing relations with the local news media, principally The Evening Press (the former title of The Press.)”

He said Coun Hills had pioneered a social contract between people and council which John Major had later adopted as his “Citizens’ Charter”. He said: “Some people have said he was New Labour before New Labour had been invented, although someone else has told me he was Old Labour.”

Dr Pierce, who has returned to the department of politics at the university to undertake the research, said he had contacted colleagues, officers and neighbours who had agreed to help with the project, which was expected to take between three and four years.

He said: “If people with knowledge of and views about Rod would like to assist, they should contact me on 01904 466075.”

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