Thursday 15 October 2015

Public Questions at Council

Undoubtedly the most contentious issue at tonight's ordinary meeting of the full Medway Council – which will be starting half an hour later than usual, because of a special item of business just before – will probably be the elimination of supplementary questions from the public. The published questions will remain, but not the (more often than not) politically-loaded secondary 'supplementary' question.

Here is the agenda for tonight's meeting.

I am not surprised at this action, owing to the ongoing abuses of this facility over the years. There is no legal right to it, and it is something that I have witnessed creating ever more difficulties for getting to and through the proper business of the Council – all that is on the agenda that affects many more, perhaps all in some instances, of the quarter of a million residents of Medway, not just those with a one-issue agenda that they wish to push. Usually there will be a body of Lefty 'rent-a-crowd' in the public gallery, supporting them and heckling and/or booing the responders.

The abuses of the public questions agenda item have always been most evident in the run-up to either the council's own elections or a General Election. This year we had both of those on the same day!

One clue is in how the public questions then become dominated by candidates from opposition parties, mainly Labour but also a fair few from other parties. The first question, which has to be okay-ed by the Chief Executive of the council with legal advice from the Monitoring Officer, is obviously constrained by legal and constitutional restrictions, and is seen by the member who is to respond so an answer can be prepared. The (supposedly brief) supplementary, however, is completely unknown to the responder until it is asked.

Far too many of these have been non-questions, over-long, and party politically dominated, especially in those election run-up periods. There are many other aspects that look very much like an abuse of the facility, and the rest of us in the public gallery have to wait for all this guff to be got out of the way before the meeting reaches the real business of the evening. Why should we have to? Don't we count?

Perhaps public questions should be made the last agenda item...

A little history might be useful here. Some years ago, when I was on the elected Council, I brought to a meeting of the Conservative Group my own misgivings about the supplementary question business, anticipating exactly what has since come to pass. Nearly all those who participated in the ensuing discussion, from all parts of the 33-strong group, defended the supplementaries – some quite robustly. Thus I know with absolute certainly that this isn't a 'Conservative plot to stop proper public scrutiny' (as has been claimed) or anything of the sort.

As always in this life, abuse something too much, too often, and you risk losing it altogether. The current proposals are just a warning shot across the bows, leaving Medway as still one of the better councils in this regard (many other councils have much greater restrictions, such as only one question per meeting and only two per year) though not one of the very 'best', if one thinks along such lines.

When I was campaigning for one thing or another, I applied intelligence rather than 'mob rule' (as one can sometimes witness at Council meetings here) so was able to achieve a number of good outcomes, most of which very few folk realise I even had that big a hand in(!) How much have the 'usual suspects' and their fellow-travellers achieved via their methods? A tiny fraction, between the lot of them!

There is a lesson there for those with enough brain cells to realise it – and to suss out that, it many instances, the real campaigners are being politically manipulated. That too is something I have witnessed a number of times, including Labour candidates and former members among the rent-a-crowd I mentioned above, and I have noticed them starting off the bad behaviour on more than one occasion.

The best results come from respecting structures such as Council meetings – which were agreed by all parties involved, by the way – and not giving those in control any reason to take away anything from the current structure/format. Tonight's expected changes are a case of cause-and-effect, and the cause has been the mounting body of evidence – all captured on audio – that the present rules have become untenable because of the public's (some of them!) long-term and ongoing abuses.

Put the boot on the other foot: what would you do?

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Fun at One

One month, that is.

A month ago I wrote about what I foresaw as possible consequences of the Corbyn leadership of the British Labour party. One month in, much of what I anticipated has come to pass, other aspects are obviously on the way but currently still to come, and one or two items might not happen exactly as I thought they were most likely to go.

Already, the new leadership and its campaign team have moved to try to make the party the more-or-less revolutionary Marxist body I have been quietly expecting, with ways to deselect moderate sitting MPs and replacing them with out-and-out Lefties as candidates at future elections. The leadership's approach to the party's sitting MPs has been disastrous, as last night's meeting of the Parliamentary Party – well-reported in various places – demonstrated very clearly, helped by members tweeting their views from within the meeting room.

The MPs are not happy, especially with policy U-turns and other impositions by the Dear Leader and his staunch supporter, the new shadow chancellor John McDonnell. So far they seem to be sticking with the party, rather than (as yet) forming a breakaway new party, SDP style. I think that will have to come in due course, most likely in the second quarter of next year by my (typically complicated but thorough) reckoning.

Frankly, the parliamentary party is tearing itself apart, as several of its members have openly admitted via social media in particular – and the broader party nationwide isn't faring much better.

This is fine in some regards, as it is what many of us anticipated and it could prove valuable to the Labour party if they bother to learn the lessons. Some will, but I suspect that many others will not, and the party's future viability is thus threatened if they don't fix this in the false belief that either all is well, or that it cannot be mended.

In the final analysis the fading away of Labour would be a good thing for Britain – but not if it leaves a vacuum where there should be a credible Official Opposition party (Labour can probably never again be a party of government, by the way) and there are no other viable contenders at the present time. I wish there were.

Labour have a long-standing track record of putting themselves through periods such as this, but always coming back from the brink. It genuinely might not happen this time, but it is not impossible. The next month should be even more telling than these past few weeks have been...