So, was the process the same as in previous years? Essentially, yes – just as I outlined in my previous post, but a little shriller, with three Labour members shouting during their speaking times, quite apart from the usual heckling and hectoring for which the Labour group is notorious. It was obvious that elections were coming...
The matters I mentioned in my previous post did come up; and the alert observer would have sussed out very easily what was really going on, especially with the local media present. Tonight's claque was primarily the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who are probably even more Communist-alike than the Socialist Workers Party – though I suspect it is close to being a tie!
As I always do at these annual events, because one member of each party gets unlimited speaking time, I time each of them, so here are this year's figures, for the record...
- Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) – 50 mins 45 secs
- Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) – 28 mins 48 secs
- Cllr Geoff Juby (Lib Dem) – 6 mins 40 secs
- Cllr Chris Irvine (UKIP) – 3 mins 38 secs
There was little of particular note this time, policies-wise, really just the FUSE Festival, which (it transpired) had been cancelled because the Arts Council, who had previously provided match-funding, had this year withdrawn that funding as this particular festival was considered 'poor value' to be subsidised from the public purse.
That echoes my own feelings, and I have long considered that the only way to be sure of its ongoing viability would be for it to become essentially self-financing and the council become merely a facilitator and promoter through its 'What's On?' print and on-line facilities.
In the end, what seems to have been some unspecified nifty footwork behind the scenes has resulted in the Arts Council re-opening the file and partially relenting. Thus the festival will go ahead after all, but in a slimmed-down form as its funding will, in total, be a little less than half its customary level.
There were other 'political footballs' including the canard that is the mythos regarding Rochester Airport. I have dealt with this topic elsewhere, and might even upload a video where I discuss the topic in moderate depth (it's already recorded, I am just thinking about whether to make it public) so don't need to go into it again now.
This was, however, a handy opportunity for Cllr Jarrett to give a little history lesson about Labour and the Lib Dems and their pursuance of the closure of the airport for a good fifteen years. A number of truths I know only too well came out in that one-minute summary, but I could have added even more, given the chance!
Another valuable history lesson was given by the Leader of the Council in response to Labour's claim that they were 'expressing the views of the people of Medway' whereas the ruling Conservative group didn't reflect public opinion. The leader did what I have done on this 'blog and elsewhere in the past: point out the always-increasing Conservative presence on the elected Medway Council, from May 2000 (when I was first elected, incidentally) to the present day. The full Medway public obviously differ in viewpoint from the claque and their Labour buddies, who between them counted as well under a twentieth of a percent of that number...
Labour's 'surveys' (to which they made several references) are selective and slanted in how they are done – I know: I've had them here – and they use scaremongering techniques when surveying by door-knocking – several of my 'eyes and ears' have reported their own first-hand experiences of this, including from three former (Labour) mayors. Therefore, do not fall into the trap of thinking these rather convenient outcomes are valid.
Overall, the budget debate – along with the distractions of the Labour and Lib Dem amendments – went on a little too long, but wasn't quite as bad as I had predicted. It was close, though.
UPDATE 1: For a (very much) Left-dominated view of the proceedings, in tweeted form, check this out.
UPDATE 2: Here is a breakdown of where much of the money is set to go.
UPDATE 3: This is the audio recording of the entire meeting, lasting 3 hours and 41 minutes (though the first 3 mins 20 secs are blank).