Suffolk looked like a big winner from last week's Autumn Budget from Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt.

So why did the announcement cause a level of panic in the county council's Endeavour House headquarters that seems to have verged on total apoplexy?

It's because the Chancellor used the M-word in announcing Suffolk's devolution deal - and that appears to be anathema to most members of the ruling Tory group at the council.

Ipswich Star: Jeremy Hunt said Suffolk would be getting a directly-elected mayor.Jeremy Hunt said Suffolk would be getting a directly-elected mayor. (Image: PA Media)

Within minutes of our initial report of the speech going online we were getting increasingly frantic calls from officials and councillors saying: "It isn't a mayor. It's a directly-elected leader of the county council."

When I pointed out what the Chancellor had said, I asked if he had made a mistake in the middle of his budget speech.

I was told no, that was what the current legislation called the position but it was likely to change in the future.

But as one opposition councillor said to me: If it looks like a mayor and it sounds like a mayor, it's a mayor!

On one level this looks like a funny little sideshow with a few senior councillors and officials dancing on a pinhead to try to justify a difficult position they find themselves in.

But on another, it is a really serious demonstration of something deeply rotten at the heart of the ruling Conservative group at the county council.

After talking to several councillors after the events of budget day, it is quite clear that what the council's leadership is really frightened of is the reaction of its backbenchers (and even some of their cabinet colleagues) to the description of the new directly-elected role as a "mayor".

They are terrified this will rob them of power - and will give the public an extra interest in local government, which is the last thing they want!

Put bluntly most Tory councillors seem to want to have as little to do with the general public who elect them as possible - knock on a few doors once every four years and then retreat back into their councillors' lives and spend all their time talking to the colleagues at Endeavour House about how important they are to their local community.

The last thing they want is a mayor drawing attention to the workings of local government - if that happens the great unwashed might start to take an interest in what happens and that would be most inconvenient.

To be fair, I don't think all Conservative county councillors feel like this. I know a few backbench Tories who are heavily involved with their local communities (mainly those most recently elected) and who work very hard in their divisions.

And the most senior members of the authority do understand the need to engage with the public - they don't seem fussed about the new elected official being called a mayor, their concern is what their backbenchers think about it and the trouble they might cause.

I understand there is a real fear that some Tory councillors are so prejudiced against the concept of a mayor that they would be prepared to ditch the whole devolution deal if that word appears anywhere in it. Who said politics isn't small-minded?

It's difficult to say what will happen to the devolution deal. I don't detect any strong feelings about it from either the official opposition, the Green/LibDem/Independent group, or Labour.

But the whole question still seems so toxic for some Tories that the whole proposal could end up in tatters.

That would be a real shame - Suffolk could do with more powers and a directly-elected mayor could be a really dynamic feature of the county's life.

But why should the Tory backbenchers want dynamism when they can stick with what they've got while claiming their allowances without having to worry about the public until May 2025?