TONY JOHNSON: Malice in Blunderland

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Wokingham Borough Council to help residents fight planning appeals.

Going along to one of Wokingham Borough’s full council meetings is sometimes like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

July’s meeting had four motions, 75% of which were useful.

Three good debates …

The first motion called for Equality Impact Assessments to be properly carried out and published along with training for new Councillors and all Executive Members and it was adopted.

The second one called for WBC to achieve a carbon-neutral Borough by 2030 and report within six months as to what actions are required. This was slightly problematic for the climate protesters as they’d nothing to protest about and it too was adopted.

The third called for the Executive “to oppose any housing need calculation over and above the demographic growth by whatever means the Executive has at its disposal”. Although jumping the gun on the still-running consultation, this too was adopted.

… and one ‘no debate’

The fourth motion was led by a senior Conservative councillor and was a thinly veiled attack on the Labour party, particularly the Reading Labour party, with allegations of anti-semitic behaviour. This was followed by a motion to “drive out such anti-semitic views from our local political scene regardless of any political allegiance”.

Quite apart from the monumental pomposity of trying to meddle in a neighbouring borough’s politics, this was partisan point-scoring at its shabbiest.

But as events were to show, this wasn’t all.

Earlier in the meeting, the finishing time had been voted back to 11pm.

However, the motion was only started with a few minutes to go and before the proposer started speaking, the leader of the Labour group asked to introduce an amended motion.

This was disallowed.

While the proposer was speaking, the Labour leader made a point of order to try to introduce an amendment and this too was disallowed.

While the proposer was still speaking, the mayor interrupted and asked him to stop as it was now after 11pm, so he duly stopped.

What happened next

I observed discussion going on among some of the Conservatives which eventually ended with a “named vote” being called for.

While that was going on, without discussion the Liberal Democrats got up and left.

When the vote started, I looked at the wall clocks. One showed 11.02pm the other 11.03 so I glanced at my wristwatch – 11.02pm.

And when the named vote was over, the motion had been adopted unanimously, with the full support of all the members of the Labour group.

The rules say …

WBC’s constitution sets rules for the council meeting. With apologies that they aren’t all easy to understand nor the most riveting of ‘reads’, here are the bits that matter: says that “If at the time the meeting is due to conclude, be it 10.30pm or 11.00pm, a Motion is under discussion, the debate on that Motion will cease immediately and the Mayor will put the Motion to the vote without further discussion. If a Motion listed on the Agenda has not been moved it will be deemed to have fallen and will not be further considered unless it is re-submitted at the next meeting”. says that “A maximum period of 30 minutes will be allowed for each Motion”.

4.2.12 h) in effect says that a motion to amend a motion may be moved without notice. says that “No speeches, including the proposer’s actual speech, may be made until the Motion has been proposed and seconded. After a Motion has been proposed, seconded and the proposer has made his/her speech the Mayor will ask if any Member wishes to speak against the Motion”.

… one rule for some …

What isn’t specified is which rule takes precedence. 13.1 says nobody can speak until the proposer has finished their opening speech; whereas 12 h) says that anyone can amend a motion at any time, without advance warning.

8.1 says that you go straight to a vote at 11pm without further discussion. Whether or not any discussion is allowed to take place with microphones off isn’t mentioned.

Despite 11.3 saying that motions can only last 30 minutes, there isn’t a rule to specify that a motion can only be put forward if there’s 30 minutes left to debate it.

The Last Word

And despite all the horse-feathers that’s appeared on social media there are some points you might want to consider after you’ve put all that posturing to one side.

Was the way the Labour leader was treated constitutional or not?

Was the Conservative discussion (with microphones off) constitutional or not?

Is your council voting on a motion which hasn’t even been explained by the proposer, let alone debated by the full council, democratic or not?

And is a vote held after the end of the meeting reasonable or not?

If anyone had bothered to find out what was in that amendment they’d have discovered that as well as opposing anti-semitism, it included opposition to Islamophobia and homophobia too.

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