To The Town Hall! …on Wednesday evening to observe how democracy is administered in Britain’s Oldest Recorded.
“Would Sir be speaking at Have Your Say this evening?”
…came the question from the charming front of house staff at the Town. Hall.
Will he chuffers.
Sir would rather like to store away his Brompton though in the cupboard underneath the stairs in the main Town Hall entrance. Mr Charmer kindly agreed, and BLIMEY – stuffed away at the bottom of the stairs was a crate of empties.
It’s thirsty work, all of this hyperlocal political activity. We trust that the Finance Committee has still got the receipts for the carnage that proceeded.
Carnage of a different sort was about to break out in the main chamber. It wasn’t quite the wall to wall vomiting that may *or may not* have been involved in emptying the beer glasses, but Have Your Say did get VERY messy.
Take yer sickness tablets and if in doubt, take aim for the person in the chamber that you oppose most politically.
Which for resident Andy Abbott has to be the Nu Labour lot that is propping up the LibLab cabinet. It’s always tricky to gauge where to pinpoint different people on the political spectrum, but you rather suspect that Andy Abbott has slightly more in common with the Nu Labour Luvvies compared to Cllr Bentley and his Tory chums.
But perhaps it is this ‘betrayal’ of hard working families [WORKING CLASS] that the Colchester Against the Cuts crowd despises so much. It is a valid target, what with Nu Labour in Britain’s Oldest Recorded carrying the Love Me I’m a Liberal Lot though the closure of sheltered housing.
There comes a point when the political target goes AWOL and the personal becomes the political.
Up as the first speaker for the always ACE Have Your Say, Andy Abbott announced:
The County Standard reported that five sheltered homes in the Borough were under threat. Cllr Young said that this would not happen for the next five years. Colchester Against the Cuts didn’t believe this reassurance. We were proved right.
I would like to repeat the challenge: we would like a public debate on the future of sheltered housing in Colchester. Tina – we are trying to help you out.”
But Tina wasn’t listening – she was absent from the meeting with prior commitments.
It was a challenge well intentioned and one that is worthy of being called. What was slightly sickening *for some* was the continued personal attack on The Coroner by Andy Abbott:
“WOW! That was some holiday – your New Labour break.”
A private (ish) photo has been doing the rounds on Facebook of the Young family taking a break. It is a private family moment that was posted on a platform that was public for anyone with connections to the Cllr’s.
The photo was innocent enough. Stuffed pigs heads weren’t being served up, but the dinner guests were dressed smartly. It was a private moment that was shared online amongst friends.
Ahh yes – social media friends. Keep your enemies closer, it seems.
The chamber went silent, and then The Coroner responded:
“I don’t need to justify my familiy’s holiday. We had two weeks away in Stratford Upon Avon. It was paid for by my father. It is shameful to bring this up.”
Probably so, but remember that Andy Abbott himself had to put up with an astonishing personal attack by Cllr Dopson at the most recent CBC Cabinet meeting.
Messy old business, politics. Just to prove the point, The Chronic then spilt a cup of coffee over our iPad.
Next up to speak at Have Your Say was resident Norman Bailey. This was to be the follow though moment after the nausea of the New Labour holiday:
“I would like to speak about democracy in Colchester – or rather the lack of it. For nine months now, a number of us have been trying to protect sheltered housing. The democratic process has broken down. This is a decision that was made by Cabinet. The electorate has been disenfranchised. Colchester is a great town, but it deserves better.”
Ahh – Cabinet by sofa in Britain’s Oldest Recorded.
Which is a charge that can’t be leveled against Council Leader Anne Turrell, listening to Mr Bailey on the backbreaking HARD benches of the CBC council chamber. The no compromise un-comfortableness of the seating arrangements was matched by the response:
“I would like to make a statement: The petition to save Joyce Brooks House was not rejected. We are in negotiations with our solicitor. It would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this stage.”
And so the “broken democracy” of CBC politics via Cabinet flushed out a response by the Leader, which was essentially NO COMMENT.
A disenfranchised electorate, or a robust leadership for the borough that serves the democratic mandate that it was given?
As ever, the truth lies probably somewhere in-between. The closure of Joyce Brooks House by the Cabinet is starting to receive some off the record criticisms from other councillors around the borough. But the Cabinet was democratically given this role to make these tough decisions. Managing a local authority is not like a Saturday afternoon road testing the latest range down at DFS along Cowdray Avenue.
For Andy Abbott and Norman Bailey to be able to eye ball The Coroner, Cllr Turrell and the Tory Boys and Girls on the other side of the chamber, and then deliver political and highly personal attacks, should be sufficient to tell you that free speech is alive and well in Sunny Colch.
New Labour holidays and disenfranchised voters aside, Have Your Say is all relevant stuff. Back on the hyperlocal agenda and Nick Chilver was keen to talk about the new Osborne Street bus station (that isn’t really a bus station…)
“I would like some reassurances about pedestrian safety at the new bus station. Getting answers about public safety at the recent roadshow was like pulling out teeth. We have a Public Transport Champion. Why is it the public that has to ask the questions? Where is the opposition on this?”
…sitting on the other side of the chamber, and not exactly offering up any answers either.
With Have Your Say having spoken, time to press on with the other agenda items. Little debate surrounded these quite key issues, especially so with the Election and term of Office of the Leader of the Council.
This effectively rubber-stamped a four-year deal for the Leader of the Council to continue.
Where’s Norman Bailey when you need him?
The final Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Panel Annual Scrutiny Report was delivered in some style by Cllr Ray Gamble:
“I appreciate that not many of you view the Scrutiny Panel as being very sexy.”
Speak for yourself, Comrade.
A review of funding for @firstsite, The Arts Centre and The Mercury, a look at the delayed regeneration of St Botolph’s and consideration of public transport in Colchester – all were key elements in the report.
No debate took place at Full Council.
Cllr Dennis Willetts then moved the motion for the Appointment of Honorary Aldermen. Former Councillors John Bouckley, Christopher Garnett and Henry Spyvee were all granted this prestige status, with Cllr Willetts noting:
“They are all public servants deserving of Alderman status. Between them they have 72 years of service.”
The motion was passed unanimously.
Which wasn’t quite the case for what should have been the apolitical matter of CBC formally recognising the achievements of Her Majesty the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee year. Cllr Will Quince moved the motion, stating:
“In this momentous year it is fitting that we honour the Queen in this way. This is not a political move – I have nothing more to say.”
But Cllr Jon Manning did, tabling an amendment to the motion:
“The motion is too wordy. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
It all got a slightly bogged down in semantics. Exactly who was honouring the Queen? Colchester Borough Council or the residents of the Borough? The suggestion was that not all residents may want to take on the flag-waving stance of Cllr Quince and his Tory chums.
Either way, Cllr Manning’s amendment was passed unanimously.
We’re sure that Her Maj will appreciate the consideration.
With Full Council looking as though it might be clocking in at under an hour, the knockabout of Q & A’s to Cabinet members was granted a little grace for added political enjoyment.
Broken democracy? Nahhh. Just hyperlocal politicos getting their kicks by administering a kicking.
Cllr Quince asked the question to Cllr Lyn Barton, the Portfolio Member for Renaissance:
“Does the PH believe that Cabinet is transparent and open?”
The relevance to any resident in that Borough was of course of absolute zero value. It’s all about POTHOLES, Comrade. The aim of the question was to try and draw out any division in the CBC Cabinet when it comes to this form of governance.
It didn’t work.
Cllr Barton cited the parallel Essex County Council Cabinet model in her reply, a system of governance that Cllr Quince of course supports, given that his Blue Rinse mob are in control over in Chelmsford.
“Where does Colchester rank in the Essex re-cycling league table?”
In the absence of Cllr Hunt in the chamber, Cllr Turrell replied:
“We are somewhere in the middle.”
Mid-table obscurity – you could re-cycle that as a catchphrase. But best make sure that you run it through Cllr Lissimore first:
“Can you please then stop using the slogan of Colchester: Cleaner and Greener?”
Cllr Kim Naish meanwhile was keen to fight the hyperlocal cause of Mile End:
“Mile End has lost its identity.”
But not in the grand scheme of things, it appears:
“The sign for Ford’s Lane doesn’t have an apostrophe. This is the lane that was owned by Farmer Ford. It is his lane.”
Broken democracy? Bang on target, we say.
Cllr Peter Chillingworth then asked Cllr Turrell to make a statement on the future of the High Street.
The response was:
“We are working with Essex County Council. Any statement will be a joint statement.”
Which by our back of a fag pack calculations, makes it two statements delivered by Cllr Turrell on the evening, and both containing sufficient wisdom that you could fit into the space on the back of your twenty B & H.
A more cutting question from Cllr Sonia Lewis to Cllr Barton:
“What was your personal involvement during the recent Future of Colchester exhibition?”
“I regularly met with council officers.”
Cllr Lewis continued:
“The layout and the building were poor. It didn’t do justice to the documents.”
The Chronic blogged at the time about the absence of any councillors at the old JJB building for the consultation exercise by CBC. The officers that we spoke with were incredibly welcoming and positive. It would have been half-decent to have the back up from those that are democratically accountable.
And then we came to Cllr Mark Cable, one of the new Tory Boy intake, keen to make a name for himself and expose some of those New Labour principles:
“Cllr Tim Young has applied to be remunerated by the largest local housing association. Did the Cabinet member for Housing notify the Leader of the Cabinet about this?”
What was being asked here – in a very polite manner – was the possible clash of interest in the PH for Housing wanting to trouser a little extra dosh our of a comfy [SOFA CABINET] position on a housing trust.
“This has been dealt with at Scrutiny.”
Cllr Cable had been Turrell-ed.
And then with the council chamber clock almost ticking round to 7pm, signaling that at least an hour of democratic debate had taken place, it was down to Smiling Cllr Steve Ford to conclude:
“The sign on the door of The Mayors Office doesn’t have an apostrophe. Does this mean that it is the office of all former Mayors?”
It was back to the bottom of the broom cupboard and a stiff drink with all the leftovers after that one, Comrade.