HERE’S a toast to His Majesty, King Elizabeth!

No. It doesn’t sound right, does it? It would be silly, if not downright insulting to the most prominent woman in Britain.

Yet Darlingtonians will soon have to start addressing the borough’s most prominent woman as though she was a man.

Tradition here insists that mayors are male even when they aren’t. And Councillor Cyndi Hughes is next in line to become the town’s first citizen, starting in May.

The council website says: “The Mayor should be addressed, irrespective of gender, as 'Mr Mayor'.”

Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been, from the days when women weren’t even allowed to vote for councillors, let alone be one.

It’s a tradition that harks back to a time when Dick Whittington’s cat would have stood as much chance of wearing the civic chain as his wife would.

Britain’s first female mayor was the redoubtable Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in 1908. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917) was an English physician and suffragist. She was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon.[1] She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as mayor of Aldeburgh, (Suffolk), the first female mayor in Britain.

History doesn’t record whether Aldeburghians were required to call her “Mr” but you can bet that few would have dared to risk it.

So why now, 113 years later, when we have a female American vice-president and women lead governments all over the world, does Darlington still pretend that women must become honorary men to earn civic respect?

The patronising rule is being challenged elsewhere. For instance, in October 2018, councillors in Sandwich, Kent, voted to stop calling female mayors “Mr”, but not without some controversy. Cllr Paul Carter said: “It is another example of being excessively politically correct and disregarding traditions that go back centuries.”

“Politically correct”? If you’d dared to call Margaret Thatcher “Mr” you’d have soon found out whether it was just lefty do-gooders who object to such misogyny.

But it’s “the tradition”! So were enforced longbow practice, bear-baiting and hanging peasants for poaching rabbits.

Of course, some traditions – like Santa Claus, first-footing and Jools Holland’s Hootenanny – are harmless practices that add a little joy and community spirit. Others that “go back centuries”, like female genital mutilation, the “blooding” of children by huntsmen and Etonian initiation humiliations are iniquities.

However, let’s not dig out the placards and loud-hailers lest we be condemned as trouble-making, “woke” extremists. An outright ban on “Mr Mayor” isn’t necessary. We should simply allow mayors the right to decide for themselves whether the tradition is worth the indignity.

Whether they answer to “Mr”, “Madam”, “Boss” or “Hinny” should be up to them. The council should simply accentuate the positives of equality, eliminate the negative instruction and not mess with “Mr” in between..

Surely, if being “first citizen” means anything these days, it means not having to grind your teeth in silent anger every time you are formally introduced.

l Peter Greenwood is the chair of the More in Common Darlington community cohesion group