For some reason the November Borough Council meeting has the oddest content of the year.
Whether it’s the prospect of three months until the next meeting, the idea that this year’s Independent Remuneration Panel won’t resign, or a fit of pre-Christmas fever, if it’s November then it’s please take your your seat but leave your judgement at the door time.
Actually ‘None of the Above’ were to come true – but nobody knew at the time.
Declaring an Interest
It’s unusual for the meeting to open with the Mayor ‘declaring an interest’. In all the other meetings I’ve observed, he’s been very interested in what’s going on.
On this occasion ‘the interest’ was a personal stake in the residents’ petition opposing a huge new housing development in Barkham. As the sole ward member, he declared that he’d be representing Barkham residents’ views and would take part in the debate.
Imagine the Speaker of the House of Commons announcing an interest in a debate about Buckingham (his constituency) then taking part in that debate before resuming his duty as speaker. The improbability of this happening gives an idea as to the significance of the Mayor’s decision.
Resignations of the first kind
Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor made a personal statement, giving a good summary of her team’s work since she was elected WBC leader in May 2017; noting the key issues; then offering her thanks; before tendering her resignation as leader.
Listening live was a bit tricky, fortunately the Youtube video* has excellent sound quality if you want to see and hear what she said. Alternatively, you can read her speech verbatim on TWP’s website.
Her speech covered many topics – here’s eight which stood out :
- “The finance brief [isn’t] insurmountably complex … we aren’t the next Northamptonshire”
- “we are winning the argument over [the] Negative Rate Support Grant”
- “transparency in the decision making … had not been seen as a priority … still appears not to be”
- “we need to distance ourselves from the old boys network style”
- “we cannot slide back into the old ways. No Political Leadership, local or national, can duck out of the tough decisions anymore”
- “measure our progress … it should be open and transparent … some … do not share these aspirations”
- “history will not be a kind judge to leaders who turn a blind eye to plausible complaints and whistle blowing”
- “we have to be open minded and prepared to change our minds when the facts change”
There’s some stark warnings here. On the one hand, we could keep things complicated, work in cliques, take the easy way, keep it all behind closed doors, ignore reality and end up hostage to fortune.
On the other hand if there’s to be any political reformation then even the dinosaurs might want to change their direction in order to get councillors, staff and residents all working together towards shared goals with reasonably common purpose.
Resignations of the second kind
Not quite so obvious was that one front bench member … wasn’t anymore.
Cllr Richard Dolinski had taken his new seat at the back of the chamber, sitting between the Independent member for Arborfield and the Labour Group.
In the same way that The Wokingham Paper chose to respect the mayor’s request to leave filming and photography for this meeting to the borough’s own team, it also kept to the embargo on Cllr Dolinski’s resignation statement.
In the absence of his making a personal statement to colleagues in the chamber, news of his resignation was published on The Wokingham Paper’s website and on social media the following day.
Not only did he resign his appointed role as Executive Member for Adult Services, he also resigned his Conservative Party membership.
It’s rare in modern politics that one politician’s resignation is so closely linked to another’s. But in this case, it’s a measure of the individual that he’s chosen to sit as an independent in order to continue serving the Woodley residents who elected him.
And the third kind
As part of the November statements made by front bench members, the Executive Member for Highways and Transport duly gave his, during which he said :
“I was driving in to Wokingham a couple of weeks ago and there was an accident on the M4 which meant that there was problems on the M4 and traffic was being diverted …
“There was a murder in Finchampstead, I must admit I thought Finchampstead was a lot more civilised than that … but there we are …”
<<< “Wokingham Without … Wokingham Without … Wokingham Without” >>>
(interruptions from other Councillors)
… “was it Wokingham Without ?
… “ah well, then I apologise to Finchampstead for maligning them but obviously parts of Wokingham Without are a little uncivilised”.
Immediately after the word ‘uncivilised’ there was an outburst of loud and raucous laughter from a number of councillors which only ended when the Mayor intervened to bring the meeting to order.
The Last Word
Along with others in the public gallery who’d witnessed this colossal insensitivity towards a recently deceased man, his close family, relatives and friends, I was ashamed to be in the same chamber.
Unless it’s me who’s out of touch and its OK for this man’s death to become a laughing matter ?