Following the Public and Planted Questions allowed at a council meeting, councillors are
allowed to assuage their own curiosity. Councillor Brenda Langstead asked “How is
the council helping young people in need of housing?“ That's an easy one to
start off with. Bexley council offers no special help to young people.
Councillor Margaret O’Neill asked cabinet member Biffa Bailey to “confirm the current number of empty residential properties in Bexley” and was promptly reprimanded by Biffa for asking the same question at the last council meeting. No she didn’t Biffa, or don’t you understand the meaning of the word current? The number was said to be 754 - currently.
Councillor June Slaughter asked the first question likely to be of any interest to the general population. “What interest has been shown by local residents and groups in being involved in the Olympic torch relay?” The responsible Cabinet Member, councillor Don Massey who is not in the least bit interested in democracy pretended he was a man of the people. “Enormous”. “Overwhelming”. “Amazing”, which is not the sort of evidence that you would expect a magistrate to regard as acceptable.
Well who exactly, which organisations, councillor Slaughter wanted to know. Massey fumbled with his papers and produced his list and proceeded to read it out. Following his recitation of eight names I had never heard of - just who or what is the Bexleyheath Scrap Metal Band? - Massey came to a stumbling halt. That was it. How much would that lot cost to support was the next and pertinent question. £271,000 came the reply. I’ll wait while you get back off the floor and get your breath back…
Well if it helps you swallow your disbelief, let me tell you that Bexley council hopes to get as much as 60% of that back from another tax raising body but failing that, and the little matter of the 40%, it will be paid by Bexley. i.e. you and me. Someone threw an unwarranted jibe at councillor Slaughter reminding us she was against the £20 a year Olympic levy. Well good for her, not all of us can afford to live in £875,000 houses.
The two cabinet members for Children’s and Adult’s Services, Katie Perrior and Chris Taylor respectively were asked questions about their portfolios and both gave a good account of themselves which I have no reason to doubt.
The Clown Prince in the gold regalia was woken up by his alarm clock and that was the end of questions. We will not get an answer to councillor Newman’s question to councillor Don Massey about why he believes that increased charges for leisure facilities have not led to the reduced usage. The secret of how one small area of S.E. London is able to defy the laws of economics that apply elsewhere remains safe for a little longer.
Next on the Agenda was a Motion from councillor Chris Ball - leader of the opposition - seeking Bexley council’s endorsement of the need to keep energy bills within bounds. He said that the average Bexley household pays £1,345 a year for domestic fuel, that in Bexleyheath and Crayford some 12·5% of residents are in fuel poverty and this is close to being the worst figure in London.
Not being a politician I’m not sure what these Motions are all about. It seems to me that the idea is that one party puts forward the suggestion that motherhood and apple pie is a thoroughly good thing but to do it in such a way that the opposing party has to reject it. Then the fun is in watching everyone try to avoid the elephant trap. This time the apple pie idea was to be critical of greedy foreign energy companies and the elephant trap was a proposal that government should legislate against them.
Councillor Peter Catterall, the closest thing we get to a reasonable man on Bexley council, proposed a small amendment that would substitute the elephant trap with something no more offensive than a mouse trap. He proceeded to debate the issue with councillor Ball in his usual eloquent way until the mayoral clown got bored and told him he had heard enough.
‘King Cnut Seymour’ then thought he had something worthwhile to say, this time the tide he was trying to defy was high intellect, but in trying to compete with head teacher Ball and university professor Catterall he was only able to demonstrate his many inadequacies. The Cnut man’s contribution to intelligent debate was to blame the Labour government for the present high energy prices (well I suppose Kyoto was a big mistake) and the “champagne socialism” of their present leader Ed Milliband who wanted “to take us into the Euro”. A highly intelligent and relevant contribution to the debate on energy costs worthy of the daftest thick haired decorator’s brush I am sure you would agree. The amended Motion was carried unanimously, the first time I have ever seen every hand go up at the same time.
As time was pressing on I was hoping that council leader Teresa O’Neill would not spend too much time on reading her report which takes up 16 pages of the Agenda. My mind rustled up an old Scottish saying, one of many evocative little gems learned when I had to spend too much of my life in Glasgow. Their description of a hot air merchant fond of the sound of their own voices was of someone who opened their mouths to let their bellies rumble. I decided that if O’Neill was going to do nothing but let her belly rumble then a bus would be more attractive than a bum.
And so it proved. Within three minutes I had heard quite enough of how “Bexley had done it for Boris” and of the thousands who had thronged the Broadway to watch the mayor strut his stuff from Christ Church to Clock Tower and as she moved into extolling the virtues if the Olympic torch relay it seemed clear she was merely embellishing her Agenda boasts. I did a Usain Bolt for the door and the back end of a 229.