10:30am Tuesday 8th November 2011
By Liam Sloan
BLUNT, outspoken, and unashamedly politically incorrect, Keith Mitchell has never shied away from making enemies.
Even yesterday, he refused to speak to the Oxford Mail after yesterday’s front page summarised his decision to quit with the headline “I Quit”.
But the council leader, who will stand down next May after 10-and-a-half years years leading Oxfordshire County Council, insisted he had “no regrets” when asked in one interview about his decade in office.
“There are things you might perhaps do differently, but you have a job and you get on with it,” he said.
And he insisted he would be “firing on all cylinders” until he leaves office on May 15, 2012.
Mr Mitchell said: “I’m not tired.
“I have still got a lot of energy.
“I still want to do something else, but I do think it is a good time to hand over the helm.
“I would stay forever, but it would be the wrong thing to do.
“You need as a leader to know when it is the right time to go,” he told BBC Radio Oxford.
For Mr Mitchell that came a decade after he assumed the leadership on November 5, 2001. It comes just a few months after he defeated a leadership challenge from within his own group.
Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of Mr Mitchell’s decade of service.
The Witney MP said: “Keith Mitchell has been a hard working public servant who has led Oxfordshire well for 10 years.
“During this time the county council has grown in reputation, reduced previous annual rates of council tax increases and provided excellent services for local people in challenging times.
“I respect Keith’s decision to stand down as leader next May and thank him for his efforts and commitment.”
Reflecting on his time at the helm on his online blog, Mr Mitchell cited his key achievements as building the two hamburger roundabouts on Oxford’s bypass, transforming Oxford Castle, removing buses from Queen Street, and coping with the 2007 floods.
Allies credit Mr Mitchell for creating a new sense of leadership and direction in the council, after a long period during which no party had overall control of County Hall.
He led his party from coalition with the Liberal Democrats, to a majority of 30 since 2009.
But as cuts started to bite and Mr Mitchell fronted plans to cease funding youth clubs and libraries, his abrasive style began to alienate sections of the public. In increasingly personal attacks, he branded authors Colin Dexter and Philip Pullman as “well known Oxford lefties” and used The Oxford Times letters page to accuse one library campaigner of showing no love for vulnerable people – despite the fact she was an NHS psychologist who counsels dying cancer patients.
Mr Pullman described Mr Mitchell’s outspoken style as “very entertaining” and said his successor should show “a bit more common sense” in the way they handled such issues.
He added: “I wish him a long and happy retirement.”
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