Lifetime achievement honour beckons for Burnley’s “Renaissance Man”

Roger Frost
Roger Frost

Historian, teacher and councillor – Burnley’s Roger Frost MBE could soon be garnered with another prestigious national honour.

Coun. Frost, the Liberal Democrat member for Briercliffe, has been nominated for a Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his contribution to local politics.

I have never toed the party line. Satirist Alexander Pope famously wrote ‘For forms of Government let fools contest. Whate’er is best administered is best.’ That is my philosophy.

Coun. Roger Frost MBE

The nomination comes at a fitting time for Burnley’s very own Renaissance Man who has announced he will retire from politics when his term comes to an end in 2018.

Roger, a local history columnist for the Burnley Express, spoke to us about his lifelong interest in politics, the highs and lows of his time on Burnley Borough Council, as well as his hopes and fears for the future.

Roger’s journey on Burnley’s political highway started in 1991 when he was approached by the town’s Lib Dems to stand for them in his home ward of Briercliffe.

However, the yellow rosette of his new party first had to replace the red of Labour he had worn, in spirit at least, since his Manchester University days.

“I studied politics and modern history at university in the hotbed of the late 1960s political environment when I supported Labour.

“I have always been centre left in politics, but when it came to me serving on Burnley Council I knew I would not get on with the Labour group of that time,” he said, adding that he has always been his own man when it comes to principles.

“I have never toed the party line. Satirist Alexander Pope famously wrote ‘For forms of Government let fools contest. Whate’er is best administered is best.’ That has always been my political philosophy.

“Back in the early 1990s, Labour in Burnley was run by a clique of people who wanted to control their members.”

And so it came to be that Roger was elected for the Lib Dems at the first attempt, and has since never lost his seat.

Indeed, he joked: “I have always regarded it as a great honour for the Lib Dems to have me as a member. I have always delivered them a seat.”

Anyone that knows Roger, and I say this with the comfort of knowing him for some years, will know that he is not necessarily a man of his age.

In fact, he partially alludes to that by admitting he wishes he had been a councillor in the 1890s.

“For me that was the golden age of local politics. The council in Burnley at that time was doing memorable things that would last.

“We were opening parks, as well as building schools, libraries and swimming pools. I wouldn’t say local politics today is irrelevant, but it is becoming that way.

“I’ve always felt there should be more local control, but cental government only seems keen on that when it suits them.

“A case in point being very recently when the government over-ruled Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject fracking. That was a local decision that was overturned.”

Roger, who has also sat on Briercliffe Parish Council for 30 years, is a confirmed localist.

Indeed, he even believes that Lancashire County Council is a step too far – and the authority doesn’t escape his ire either.

“I believe Burnley should be a unitary authority. Lancashire County Council has wrecked the library service in Burnley, and for years wrecked our education system by not investing in it. The Building Schools for the Future programme since has not entirely helped either.

“I just feel that a lot of county councillor are thick and don’t even understand their own wards. The county is just too big to administer efficiently.”

Despite his withering wit, Roger is naturally an upbeat and positive man, and so I pressed him on what he considers his proudest moments on the council.

“The main highlight for me was the success of the Forest of Burnley project, which I helped to organise. Parks officer Simon Goff also deserves a great deal of praise, as do Keith Wilson, Jane Evans and Andrew Dacre.

“We planted 1.2 million trees in the borough, raising the tree cover from around 3% to just over 10%. It was the most successful tree-planting scheme in England in modern times.”

The other high point for Roger was his Mayoral year in 2005 – when he took the opportunity to use his civic influence to attract more young people into politics.

He said: “I was surprised by how much respect the people of Burnley had for the office of Mayor. I invited all the local primary schools to visit the town hall. They enjoyed seeing the regalia and chains of office. I hope that this will have attracted more youngsters to politics.”

The big political issue of this year – the summer’s EU referendum – did not deliver the result Roger hoped for.

“Back in the 1960s I actually voted to come out of the common market. This summer, however, I voted to remain. Half of our trade is with Europe, and I fear that if we don’t get the appropriate terms in our Brexit negotiations, we will see prices rising and a fall in living standards for many people.”

The other pressing political moment this year – the American presidential elections, does not escape Roger’s scorn either.

“American politics is awful. The Constitution hasn’t changed for 230 years, it is too inflexible. As for the candidates, they’re both awful too.

“There was not one sensible Republican candidate. For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders would have been the best choice in my opinion. If I was voting in America, I would just write ‘Bernie Sanders’ over the ballot paper.”

Roger is at his happiest when looking back, so I asked who his political heroes from Britain’s history were.

Not wishing to be narrowed down to one, he revealed: “I would say for the war years, Winston Churchill was the right man at the right time.

“However, overall, I think Clement Attlee was our greatest Prime Minister. In the difficult post-war years, his administration transformed the country with the creation of the NHS and the nationalisation of some of our industries.”

So, looking ahead, which Roger admits he is reluctant to do, what does the future hold for him?

The author of 30 books and pamphlets on Burnley’s history, Roger revealed he is hoping to complete his magnum opus.

“I have been working on a complete history of Burnley since 1980, and it is virtually complete. I have enjoyed my time representing the people of Briercliffe. I have always tried my best.”

Roger will discover if he has won the award when the winner will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday, November 1st against the backdrop of the Guildhall’s Livery Hall in London.