I wish I had councillor
Gareth Bacon’s diary skills, a three and a half hour
council meeting was scheduled just hours before I have an already fully occupied day.
It is currently just after 5 a.m.
Last night’s Extraordinary Council meeting was a bad one from the very start and in marked contrast to the cabinet meeting of 23rd February.
Two jobsworths on the front desk wouldn’t let any member of the public enter the council chamber - unless they were a former Conservative councillor - until four minutes before the public meeting was due to start. Ten members of the public took their seats plus the aforesaid former councillor and General Election candidate Anna Firth. I sincerely hope she was suitably shocked by what unfolded before her. She was one of only three observers who stayed for the 10:30 rate setting vote. 1·9% if anybody cares, 100% Tory vote for, 100% Labour and UKIP against.
No blogging table had been provided so there was nowhere to conveniently place my recorder and with nowhere to steady my elbows sharp photographs were near impossible. I shall take a tripod next time.
The chairmanship by mayor Howard Marriner was excruciatingly bad. I seriously considered whether he might be drunk, his face was red enough, but came to the conclusion he was not. However his performance could not have been worse. It was partisan in the extreme and almost every time a Labour councillor’s speech strayed from the budgetary topic they would be reprimanded for it, but Conservative councillors almost to a man took delight in scoring political points, indeed Philip Read even began his speech with a promise to insult the young, female and black councillor Mabel Ogundayo.
Will he never give up his attack on the Labour spokesman for children’s services and stop proving himself Bexley council’s premier idiot? Quite an achievement given the competition for that position.
I shall exclude councillor Rob Leitch, the new man from Sidcup, from the list of incredibly poor speakers because his maiden speech was a good one. My first reaction was that he was making a blatant bid for future cabinet office and maybe he was but he spoke more sense than many of the old men around him, all far too fond of the sound of their own voices.
I shall also except cabinet member Alex Sawyer who made his points forcefully without taking cheap shots at his political opponents and their leadership despite previously saying that is what full council meetings are for.
The meeting was opened by cabinet member Gareth Bacon with a predictable scene setting speech and it might have been better to then allow the opposition parties to have their say, take the vote and go home. But in the words of Alex Sawyer at the last People Scrutiny meeting, council meetings are the place for knocking chunks out of each other. In doing so most of the assembled cretins proved their worthlessness.
Cabinet member John Fuller did not speak and Eileen Pallen said nothing that sticks in my mind and analysis of the audio recording will have to wait for another day.
One episode stays in memory very clearly, and that is UKIP councillor Chris Beazley who regretted the fact that there was no chance that the cost of democracy could be reduced for several years because the Electoral Commission would take at least four or five to rule on the proposal to reduce the number of Bexley councillors. In Bromley it is on course to take ten or more years.
Councillor Beazley came up with a beautifully simple alternative. He moved that instead of reducing the number of councillors from 63 to possibly 42, the 63 reduce their allowances by one third for the years 2015/16 to 2017/18.
This threw the meeting into total disarray. The infantile councillor Sharon Massey stood to say a reduction would be illegal because it would reduce her pay below minimum wage level, thereby proving that she regards her council position as a job and not a vocation. As is well known, her true vocation is to be found in pubs and strip clubs.
While the chairman debated with the legal officer if the amendment could be allowed and councillors floundered at the thought that their pension supplements might be under threat, the only quick thinker present came up with the obvious way round the sudden outbreak of popular democracy. Knowing that the blue sheep around him would back him come what may, Gareth Bacon moved that a vote be taken on the UKIP amendment. The heavily biased chairman shouted “hear hear”.
Every Conservative voted to close four libraries and the Belvedere Splash Park rather than see thinner wallets. The Labour contingent, who in my opinion, did not put on the best show ever, abstained. When asked why, it was said that it was because the UKIP plan was not properly costed.
Now let me see, you cut allowances by one third for three years. That’s the same as a 100% cut for a year isn’t it and councillor’s allowances for a year currently add up to a little over £900,000. Sorry, no time to look it up right now.
So now we know with absolute certainty what we all suspected. Bexley councillors are in it for themselves. Residents can go take a jump.
Note: Leader Teresa O’Neill was not present. As noted six weeks ago, her mother died unexpectedly on 20th January and it is understood that last night the council leader was at her father’s bedside because he is terminally ill. It’s an appalling run of ill fortune not to be wished on anyone.