One of the recent applications of use of the Internet and high speed access to it by most people, which I find helpful, is the webcasts that are posted by Southend Council after its main council meetings and, for those who favour live action, it is possible to see what goes on as it happens. I suspect the number who follow these many be tiny (it would be nice to know how many) but for those sad people (I include myself in that number) who take an interest in local politics and the goings on of Council, this might be deemed as a godsend.
I have already posted twice on the subject of Council webcasts (here and here) and while I am some way to cracking the mysterious goings on in Council, I have come a long way. I have just been listening to the webcast of last Thursday’s full Council meeting (nearly 4 hours) and while not always attentive (what comes with multi-tasking) I think I got more than the general gist of what transpired. When I first posted in what was deemed by at least one prominent councilor to be in a disrespectful and critical way, I was reminded of the Bible text not to judge lest I be judged (which so happened was the subject of my last post). I hope what I say, based on what I have seen and heard, will be considered charitable!
While I am in a privileged position of knowing several councilors, and some of the issues they cover, there is still a lot where I don’t purport to fully understand and in my reporting I can only at best offer my impressions as to what is going on. I should say at the outset, I am awestruck by what these meeting seeks to cover and amount the work councilors do (assuming they do it) in keeping abreast with what is going on, along with other duties. Moreover, behind full Council meetings, there is the unseen work of what goes on in committee, which often just gets mention in these meetings.
On a general note, the mayor (Andrew Morling), like his illustrious predecessor, Chris Walker, did a good job, and with good humour, chairing what cannot be an easy meeting to chair (although the councilors were fairly well behaved), ably assisted by the town clerk (Rob Tinlin), who did well to ensure rules were properly followed. I like the traditions that are followed, mace, robes, prayer (although that wasn’t shown). It was a nice touch to welcome in the youth mayor as was wishing Graham Longley (one of the members of the council) well given his absence through illness. I like members of the public being able to ask questions. While the responses were measured and the issues of concern were unlikely to have dealt with fully satisfactorily, they were at least responded to fairly. There was a lot of procedural stuff that in the main went over my head, but everything was done decently and in order. While councilors were not immune from having digs and goes at one another, at least there was a degree of decorum and I reckon was fair game. Given we learned with Dr. Vel leaving the Independents, the administration no longer commands an overall majority in Council, things could become interesting from the wheeler dealer perspective.
My “go for the jugular” moment(s) were when Judith McMahon responded to some eloquent words from John Lamb regarding flood defences and then later taking James Courtenay to task for making inappropriate gestures. My “champagne” moment was when Ian Gilbert had a go at the opposition suggesting they forfeit their right to criticize not being consulted when they failed to so involve the opposition when they were in power and only when their hand was forced. My “to be checked out” moment(s) were when the Leader of the Council, Ron Woodley, accused the previous administration of financial mismanagement and reiterated his often made offer that his doors were open to talk to any with something worth saying and his disgust at the two local MP for not taking him up on the offer. I think he was put under the cosh quite a bit by opposition members asking awkward loaded questions. While he coped well he didm’t always answer the question. My “humour” moment was when Stephen Aylen tried unsuccessfully to get Sooty to ask his question. This might be supplemented by the revelation that Ron Woodley is richer than James Courtenay, and it happens that both agree!
While there was a degree of point scoring going on, there was also some good exchanges, not least regarding ideas to redevelop the Queensway estate. The “best response” moment I give to David Norman in addressing these matters with his customary polish. While I found the getting things referred back to cabinet moves (which required a vote) somewhat tedious, in the case of South Essex homes only having three years contract, I felt that was the right decision, but I like the arguments made by either side. Like many, I have a view on South Essex Homes competency etc. as an ALMO, but in principle I would like them to continue. To Mark Flewitt goes the most incisive question moment, concerning the way he raised this matter. I would have liked there to be more discussion on Southend’s response to the refugee crisis, but at least it is on the Councils agenda and I await developments with interest. There were other important issues, of course, that were discussed, but like many I tended to pick up most on those that interested me the most.
In all, it was an interesting meeting to follow that was also quite informative, and important too because it impacts upon my town, and given any are at liberty to do what I have done, that has to be good for democracy. It helped to reveal the true mettle of individual councilors and begs the question why some talk too much and others don’t talk at all. I await developments with interest.