This was the last meeting of the full Medway Council before next month's local and national elections – and it was a strange one indeed.
The first hour was taken up with tributes to non re-standing councillors, two senior members in particular who are proposed to become Honorary Aldermen. That part was fine, though a stumbling Leader of the Council took about three times as long to say his piece as it should have taken.
The real issue stemmed from letting all and sundry from around the Chamber speak to this item. Why? Each political group's leader could have done, but there was no benefit whatsoever in having a dozen other members witter on, including four of the outgoing members. I cannot recall this having been done on equivalent occasions in the past...
Anyway, the big item of actual business was the batch of seventeen public questions, each with a supplementary question. As is usual just before an election, nearly all of these were actually party political questions, asked by candidates in the upcoming local elections here. I recognised the names as soon as the agenda was published, and the style and nature of the seemingly innocuous enough questions gave the game away as well. Of course, it is the (unpublished) supplementaries that are the real questions.
I wasn't the only one to realise the true nature of what had been submitted; and independently of me, another had also worked out that thirteen of the questions had come from local Labour, two from UKIP and one from the Lib Dems. A former local Labour member also disclosed on Twitter during the evening that he had in the past been asked to put his name to pre-scripted questions. It's what they do...
Similarly, questions from members and the two Motions were much the same kind of fare, especially the latter. The first Motion was from Labour, and was obviously nothing more than the latest in their ongoing series of Union-originated motions that relate to national policy, not local matters. With these, always worded to include our area as if to suggest that it is a purely 'local' issue, a little investigation generally reveals that exactly the same thing has been done in other councils by their Labour members,with only the place name changed to suit.
This one was to do with the poor firefighters – and the idea was obviously to use emotional blackmail for these heroes. It was laid on fairly thickly, so no-one who was paying any real attention to the proceedings could have missed it.
The second Motion, from UKIP, was also politically-loaded, and not a good idea at all. It was obviously 'manufactured', one big clue being that old favourite of 'sending a message' to central government as the mover declared. Yes, again it was not a local issue as such, and certainly shouldn't be isolated to one borough anyway. If it had been genuine, it would have been taken to Parliament, not a Council. I have warned of this wheeze in the past, as some readers here will no doubt recall...
In between, we'd had the usual Leader's Report, Overview & Scrutiny activity and a couple of reports. Nothing of great significance happened with any of those. The only noteworthy point, I think, was that several members from all sides complimented the Task Group method that deals with specific policy areas in greater detail than tends to be possible in full committees.
They are, in effect, renamed Working Parties with a few bells and whistles added to their permitted activities. Medway Council has always been very good at doing excellent work within its Task Groups, actually, so I can certainly go along with what the members were saying – even though I was appointed to only two such bodies myself, during my years on the Council so have limited experience of personal involvement. I have seen the outcome from several of them, though, over the years.
I thought the Mayor chaired this meeting particularly well, despite the over-indulgent tributes part (which had obviously been decided beforehand how it was going to be handled) and better than a number of other Mayors I have witnessed running these Council meetings.
It all finished at a little before 2230 hrs, which was earlier than I had expected. The media had been there from the start, though one of the two reporters left about a quarter of an hour before the end. Therefore expect some of what happened this evening to be featured in the local newspapers during the next few days.