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Disgraceful scenes in South Shields Town Hall

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Council Chamber, South Shields Town HallIndependent supporters transform Council Chamber into a bear pit.

There were absolutely astonishing scenes in South Shields Town Hall this afternoon as two separate meetings of South Tyneside District Council took place. An Extraordinary Meeting had been called for 2.30 p.m. to discuss a series of motions proposed by the Independent Alliance group of councillors, and this was followed by the regular cyclical meeting of the Council.

Councillors and non partisan members of the public struggled to hear the dialogue of the meetings as supporters of the Independent group reduced the democratic debate to the values of a bear pit. There can be no getting away from the fact that the introduction of public participation did not intend the sort of football crowd antics that I witnessed this afternoon. A stream of constant interruptions, cat calls, jeering, cheering, talking amongst themselves, and clapping, in equal measure stripped away all dignity from the meeting of our borough’s council. It was a shambolic embarrassment! A stronger or different Mayor may well have taken the decision to empty the public gallery, it was most undignified.

As far as I understand things the public are invited to ask questions NOT to hijack the meeting and cause chaos! Yet these scenes manifested themselves in the Extraordinary Meeting which WAS NOT convened for public questions! This meeting started at 2.30 p.m. and caused the second meeting to start at 4.45 p.m. I cannot tell you what time it concluded as I left at 5.20p.m. as the meeting had barely got underway after more inane procedural questions from Cllrs. Allen and Jane Branley (Westoe Ward)

Their approach to the two meetings was inexplicable, they had no idea or clue about the Council’s Constitution and were constantly asking for guidance from the Solicitor Brian T. Scott. Good God these two have NINETEEN years of council experience between them, the first thing that they would received after being elected is a copy of the Constitution and Standing Orders! In all of this time have they ever bothered to read it?

I was exasperated, particularly after Jane Branley confessed to not knowing the Standing Orders too well and Allen Branley kept enquiring whether he would be allowed to speak after amendments had been accepted. There are basic rules for debate for all councillors to understand and follow, the right time for seeking advice from Officers is before you go into the meeting, NOT during the debate!

On the motion to extend the length of time for questions form the public or councillors they were offered a concession from the Leader of the Council Paul Waggott to set up a cross party working group which would consider best practice and find a consensus that might lead to an amicable solution. The Branleys smelled a rat (or so they thought) and rejected it out of hand, complaining about the lack of a structured timetable. However, Waggott’s amendment was carried so they can involve themselves in further talks, but they will HAVE to accept that changes in Standing Orders can only take place at the Annual Meeting. Rules are rules, and if they seriously intend to one day dominate the Council Chamber they will need to be prepared to play to the same rules themselves,(and we realy don’t need four and a half hours of questions before we get to the meat of the business.)

On this point of questioning, I repeat my assertion, that if councillors are doing their job meticulously and correctly by raising questions in committee and CAFs, and challenging in full council, then there should be little need for additional questions from the public. Councillors (of all parties) are elected to represent our views and we should expect them to do that, if we don’t like their views we get the chance to dump them at the next election (assuming that all the votes will count.)

On the motion to webcast Council proceedings, once again an olive branch was offered and rejected. Paul Waggott came up with a “red herring” over a £20,000 cost, but this is what it cost Newcastle City Council ten years ago! Prices for such equipment have dropped dramatically since then as we all know. Personally, I do not think it necessary to have a high-tech system which automatically focuses in on councillors faces when they switch on their microphones. Nor do we need a cameraman. Phooey!

Just mount a half decent camera with a wide angle lens in a central position over the electronic voting board behind the Mayoral Chair. It will cover the whole of the Chamber and the public gallery too, the wiring could easily be channelled with voting equipment so there should be next to no disruption to the fabric of the Chamber. By not agreeing to install such a system in the near future the Labour Party have missed a golden opportunity to broadcast the antics of the Branleys! Instead, this rather brilliant idea will be kicked about in a committee for evaluation. I sincerely hope that someone will take the idea seriously.

During almost all of the three hours that I was present the Opposition attack consisted virtually entirely of Jane and Allen Bradley, and what really was the point of calling for time consuming named votes? The outcome was predictable, so why bother with that tactic.

Here’s a pedantic point if I may. Does our council no longer informally insist on a dress code for male members? Surely someone as affluent as Allen Branley can afford a shirt and tie. If you are coming to decide council business, you could at least look businesslike!

The Progressives give me grave concerns, as a party which has a long history of Independently representing the slightly right of centre viewpoint in these parts, they have become a meek and meaningless shadow of their former self. They have got themselves hitched in a marriage of convenience with the Branley Bunch and they have allowed themselves to be totally marginalised. No longer policy driven but led by a couple of utter second-hand socialist nincompoops who cannot even understand the etiquette of debating principles and pulling a band of rebellious “Luddites” behind them determined to stifle and stop any forward development for this town. The Progressives, if they have any wit left should press for a divorce, as soon as possible!

I repeat a couple of statements that I have made in the past. We have a Labour Council because we deserve it. The Opposition will not heed the call to sharpen their act or produce responsible alternative policies. We are faced with a choice of NuLabour or Nearly New Labour, until people realise that there ARE alternatives.

Here’s a direct appeal to Paul Waggott and Iain Malcolm – GET THAT WEBCAM PUT UP BEFORE NEXT MONTH – (you can even accept Allen Branley’s offer of payment.)

Curly now sits back, puts the tin helmet on and waits for the artillery barrage! 

Written by curly

January 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Shucks! I really did fancy the job of cameraman. Seriously though, on this occasion, you don’t need the tin hat as far as I’m concerned. These tactics by the Progressives and Independents of South Shields are less about the furtherance of democracy and more about (as an old friend and ex Councillor would have said ) “their self aggrandisement”

    Westy

    January 24, 2008 at 9:08 pm

  2. Shame you left so soon Curly!

    If you’d stayed you would have witnessed our Labour dominated council making history. For further details check out:

    http://www.shieldsgazette.com/news/Council-meeting-abandoned-amid-angry.3710603.jp

    As for the tin helmet forget it, apparently plastic is all the rage.

    Ahmed Khan

    January 24, 2008 at 9:31 pm

  3. Ahmed, I’ve checked it out and it seems that the Mayor had to do exactly as Curly recommended she should do. We should also ask ourselves “When is a crowd not a crowd?” Surely not twenty people!! Perhaps it’s time we heard from the silent majority. That would be more democratic. Should we feel comfortable about so few people, who clearly have a huge axe to grind,resorting to filibustering? It is my democratic right to believe not. Perhaps I would have been more impressed if the public gallery had had to be cleared in the early eighties when the miners were fighting for their livelihood. But then that’s just me being a sentimental leftie. Ah well!!

    Westietoo

    January 24, 2008 at 10:37 pm

  4. Ahmed, I’m afraid that if I were in your shoes I would not be proud of my own actions at the meeting.
    Sorry, but it needs to be said.
    There is a lot more to local democracy than the “entertainment value”.

    curly

    January 25, 2008 at 12:37 am

  5. I agree with you Curly, Kahn and co should be ashamed. Yesterday wasn’t democracy in action, it was the rabble at work. Jeering and heckling as the support act to the Branleys main act of disrupting council business. And how much in time, effort & money did their antics cost? May be if they turned up, as Councillors, to represent the views of the (silent?!) majority, rather than their own political agendas, they might get some respect. But yesterday, the Branleys, Kahn, & co showed their true colours – Luddites with conspiracy theories who don’t or even want to know how to debate an issue without hurling insults

    Josie

    January 25, 2008 at 5:26 pm

  6. I advise the leader of the council not to fall on his sword just yet. When talking about asylums and lunatics he’s in pretty good company.For instance, Tony Blair used it about Ian Duncan Smith and the Tories some years ago. However, to my mind, he is in even better company. Virginia Woolfe wrote “Those comfortably padded lunatic asylums which are known euphemistically as the stately homes of England.” Now there’s a quote to which a sentimental leftie, such as myself, can truly relate.

    Westietoo

    January 25, 2008 at 7:01 pm

  7. I thought that members of the public were allowed to observe, rather than participate. That seems to be the convention in most well run Councils.

    Maybe these arcane conventions of democracy and democratic processes have yet to percolate down to certain sections of the South Shields community.

    A pity, really. I have a great admiration for many from South Shields. Simply shouting down the opposition does nothing.

    Chuck Unsworth

    January 25, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  8. What a horrible awful meeting those people turned it into, shouting and bawling like children.

    Ginger Geordie

    January 26, 2008 at 9:47 am

  9. I was present in the meeting too, as I am at most Full Council meetings. I was shocked by the amount of hate and poison that seemed to fill the Chamber. I have never seen (or rather heard) a meeting erupt in that manner. I feel it was a waste of everyone’s time as it resembled a playground, and nothing more.

    DeeBe

    January 27, 2008 at 10:45 pm

  10. […] meetings of South Tyneside Borough Council may well have been noted for the raucous antics of “members of the public” and certain councillors, as well as the vocal thoughts of Mr. Ahmed Khan, the defeated Independent Alliance candidate in […]

  11. […] bad enough having councillors and their supporters behaving like children in South Tyneside without asking babies in the nurseries how they think local councils should be run, but there again […]

  12. […] Corner Shop by the South Tyneside Independents and their supporters after I decided to heavily criticise their actions at the January meeting of South Tyneside Council, and their gungho approach and pure gesture politics in boycotting the […]


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