I don’t know where to start. I am tempted to say it was a disgraceful spectacle
that will have benefited the local population not one jot and leave it at that.
But you may be expecting something more.
Apart from four of us from the Bonkers team and a lady who often turns out in support, the audience peaked at twelve, three of whom were wearing Bexley council identification. No one apart from myself was taking notes so I assume the press was absent again. The mayor started the meeting with his usual diatribe about protecting the public from the intrusion of recording equipment and off we went. First up a Petition against a new ADSA store.
Petition against ASDA supermarket in Belvedere
Councillor Kerry Allon (Belvedere) presented a petition from local residents "Who do not wish the overdevelopment of their small town by ASDA, sharing the current B&Q warehouse site in Lower Road Belvedere, bringing with it all of the dangers and challenges to the community that such a move entails”. This was read out taking all of 10 seconds and I was looking forward to hearing what dangers a supermarket might represent, salmonella in the chicken perhaps? But that was it, a bundle of papers changed hands without a word of debate. Next business please.
Question from the public
There was only one because the obstacles put up by Bexley council prevent serious questioning. The one that got through the net was from Tory sympathiser and one time candidate Tony Ault who asked councillor Katie Perrior (Blackfen & Lamorbey) about fostering services. I have no reason to believe Bexley’s record on this is not good; Katie told us that it cost £5,000 a week to keep each child in care so it wasn’t something to be undertaken lightly, but the reason for Mr. Ault’s planted question soon became clear. Bexley has just been rated “outstanding” for fostering services by Ofsted. Mr. Ault asked a secondary question as is his right. “Does Ms. Perrior have plans for next year?” “Yes” said Katie, “Lots”. Presumably one of them is not to travel B.A. again.
Questions from councillors
Most questions landed in councillor Craske’s (Blackfen & Lamorbey) lap so I turned down the sensitivity on my lie detector in case it went into overload.
From councillor Brian Bishop (Colyers), (edited to reduce length), “after two horrific murders, please reassure residents that Bexley is a safe place to live”. Craske launched into his trademark thank you speech to council staff and emergency services and eventually got around to telling us that the Bexley CCTV system wasn’t turned on on the fateful night. He was going to recommend that the kebab shop has its closing time changed from 2 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Councillor Sybil Camsey (Brampton) then repeated Tony Ault’s question to Katie Perrior and unsurprisingly got the same answer.
Councillor Munir Malik (Thamesmead East) came in with all guns blazing. “As the income from parking is reduced would councillor Craske tell us what the car park occupancy rate is?” Craske’s usual practice when asked for a number is to think of one, double it, and maybe put a nought on the end but this time Craske was stumped. He didn’t know. “But you claim to have made a business analysis of parking charges”, said Munir, and (paraphrased) “you must know something, and why with business spiralling downwards aren't you introducing discounted rates, no charges at night and free initial periods? You have no ideas at all” he said to a chorus of jeers and cat calls from the intellectually challenged hooligans opposite. One of their number, John Davey (Lesnes Abbey), invited Craske to recite his well known list of car parks across London that charge more than Bexley, the tourist centre of Greenwich and the new Olympic Park in Stratford. Craske has evidently not noticed that parking in the adjacent Westfield Centre is currently free.
Among the hooligans making excessive noise were councillors June Slaughter (Sidcup) and James Hunt (East Wickham) but they were outplayed by their neighbour who shouted at councillor Malik that he should “sit down”. My colleague who had a better line of sight than I said the verbal abuse came from Ms. Katie Perrior. Is KP nuts? Elsewhere Craske and councillor Gareth Bacon (Longlands) were jeering and pointing with gestures that were a bit too reminiscent of Nazi salutes.
In another theatrical set-piece councillor John Waters (Danson Park) asked Craske, who had run through the number of Penalty Notices issued by Bexley council, if he happened to remember how many were issued under Labour and by one of those amazing coincidences the appropriate piece of paper was already in Craske’s hand. This episode was so well handled that Craske couldn’t keep a straight face and sniggered uncontrollably throughout. He reminded councillor Malik that he had voted for a 20 pence rise in the cost of parking back in 2003 which probably makes Malik a much better economist than Craske could ever be. During the fake boom engineered by Gordon Brown demand would have stood an increase in the market price without killing the goose that laid the golden egg. But Craske, clueless as ever, doesn’t recognise that Brown’s boom is well and truly bust and the market will no longer stand being milked. Munir Malik. Not only a better economist, a better man all round.
Councillor Brad Smith (Christchurch) then planted a question designed to let Craske re-announce the three million pounds that Boris Johnson has allocated to revitalising Bexleyheath. He is going to get rid of three sets of traffic lights which shouldn’t have been put in in the first place. Councillor Margaret O’Neill (Erith) wanted to know how this was going to revitalize Bexleyheath. While the mayor got in a muddle over which of the various O’Neills was asking questions, Craske had time to scratch his head for an answer, but before my lie detector was able to beep, he admitted that he didn’t know; but the night life was going to be improved. How closing a kebab shop early helps wasn’t made clear.
Councillor Chris Taylor (Colyers) then asked a question but I’m not going to give space to pointless ones and the meeting moved on to Motions; as though the chamber had not been filled with them already.
Councillor Sandra Bauer (Thamesmead East) put forward the Motion that the council condemns those involved in the August riots. Well they are hardly going to speak up in favour are they? However it gave ample opportunity for grandstanding politicians to blow various trumpets, however credit where it is due, councillor Craske acknowledged that the good people of Bexley are not the rioting sort, and many of them volunteered to help out with food etc. for the police. Even the previously maligned ASDA was praised for donating supplies. For a borough that mercifully suffered no riot damage the motion was particularly long and drawn out. One reason was that councillor Gareth Bacon droned on well beyond his allotted time and when the Wishy Washy chairman mayor asked him to stop, he ignored him leaving mayor Sams (St. Michaels) to regret not taking Val Clark’s (Falconwood & Welling) advice to read the ABC of Chairmanship by Citrine.
Next councillor Don Massey (Cray Meadows) was to put forward a Motion about proposals from the Boundary Commission. Having read ahead I had already commented that it looked as though the Conservatives were proposing a neat bit of gerrymandering, but before councillor Massey had a chance to speak mayor Ray Sams declared that debating time was up. Massey’s wife Sharon (Danson Park) rode to the recue pointing out that by the time the council met again next February the Boundary Commission would have stopped accepting comments. The meeting descended into turmoil with factions demanding that the mayor extended the time allowed or that standing orders be honoured. The mayor floundered and didn’t know what to do. At least five minutes was wasted while some of us pined for the days when Val Clark was in charge, she always knew what she wanted to do, even though it was often contrary to her favourite book, the passage of time, council standing orders or simple common sense. Sams was totally out of his depth and even when guided by his legal adviser managed to confuse the words sufficient and insufficient so that when he called for a vote someone had to call out “what are we voting for?”. Councillor Stefano Borella pointed out that the mayor had invoked the wrong Standing Order and his call for a vote on a time extension was thereby invalid. I’m not sure it was her place to do so but leader O’Neill (Brampton) over-ruled him and councillor Don Massey was eventually allowed to put his Motion.
In the proverbial nut shell, Massey, backed by all the Conservatives, wants to move part of Welling into the Erith constituency and both North End and Crayford wards to be moved into the Bexleyheath & Sidcup seat. As I had anticipated, the Labour party saw this as blatant gerrymandering. Putting Tory Welling in with marginal Erith might be enough to swing the latter to the right and to put the left leaning wards of the industrial north into an area which has traditionally had among the largest Tory majorities in the country wouldn't swing it enough to do any harm to the Tories. A more blatant case of gerrymandering is hard to imagine but Bexley Conservatives managed to drag up some compelling reasons why Welling and Erith, Slade Green and Sidcup were natural partners with common interests. Councillor Melvin Seymour excelled by recounting how they were linked by the events of the First World War. Additionally the A20 being a natural boundary helped his case but councillor Deadman (North End) countered that by saying so was the more northerly railway line a natural boundary. While making notes of this with my eyes lowered I realised that without the benefit of sight it is near impossible to distinguish between Deadman speaking and council leader O’Neill. The Motion was carried. Let’s hope the Boundary Commission can recognise skullduggery when it stares them in the face.
Next the immaculately attired councillor Stefano Borella (North End) with no clothes flapping this time was due to put a motion about “equality and human rights and in particular the work to promote gay rights” but he was ruled well and truly out of time.
Councillor Chris Ball recalled that the Sunday Times, not an organ to usually castigate the Tories, had made Bexley “nationally notorious” with its tales of stealth taxes. Leader O’Neill countered this by saying that the lady featured had said that her family finances were being threatened but the example given by the newspaper was not a council imposed charge. She couldn’t remember what it was and I curbed my inclination to call out that it was the cost of hiring a boat in Danson Park.
Councillor Peter Catterall (Falconwood & Welling) provided a logical explanation of why we may not be seeing the same staff in libraries as often as we did. With library hours reduced, staff have to make up time elsewhere according to some sort of rota system. It’s hardly ideal but unavoidable given the cuts to the service.
When councillor Stefano Borella said something not altogether complimentary about Boris Johnson, the Conservatives, many of them standing and gesticulating, erupted into mocking and jeering. Craske and Gareth Bacon stood out with their particularly undignified behaviour.
Councillor Craske was asked about the alleged 70 ways of getting a parking ticket and responded that it wasn’t true, the number was nearly 90. During the meeting Craske managed to slip in his notorious lie that Labour don’t know that Bexleyheath has a railway station twice but managed to inform us that Southeastern are going to install a lift there. Pity about the lack of disabled access at Erith.
Leader Teresa O’Neill had possibly been out celebrating Olly Cromwell’s predicament a little too hard because she had turned into Mrs. Malaprop for the evening. While speaking about the August riots she said to much laughter that councillors were responsible. She also said that councillor Perrior had assiduously “looked after children [in care] to death” and that Bexleyheath’s Christmas decorations are going to “set Broadway alight”.
Councillor Colin Campbell (St. Mary’s) it should be noted had apparently visited a charity shop after all and sported a red tie. I was wearing the silk blue one he declined to accept last month.
I left the meeting to catch the 22:04 bus home. The meeting had a little time still to run. By the time I left there were perhaps two, maybe three people left in the public gallery not wearing Bexley badges.