Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What a shambles.

I can't believe how I fell for it. The idea that Reading Labour were somehow a well oiled political machine.

Last night they were a shambolic mess.

There's nothing against the rules that says the Mayor has to be apolitical during a council meeting as the ceremonial and political functions are clearly split in the constitution. However, there have been long standing conventions that appear to be proving inconvenient at the moment to the Reading Labour party.

It was clear from the first full Council meeting when Glenn Goodall was passed over in asking a supplemental question in favour of allowing the previous lead councillor for the Environment that we were not playing by the previous rules anymore and indeed the one sided admonishment of councillors during meetings has to be congratulated as a well targeted political move.

Given that the politicising of the chairing of the full council meetings is practically acknowledged if not publicly, it was interesting indeed to see Councillor Khan troop into the Labour group leader's office prior to the meeting to get his official Labour order of business briefing from Jo Lovelock and Tony Page.

We saw several examples of the Labour agenda in use as opposed to the one published in the summons.

Probably the most flagrant breach of etiquette, if not the rules, was when the Chair allowed Rachel Eden to ask a second supplemental question. Except it wasn't a supplemental question. This is what the constitution says:

"To clarify a reply to a question, any Councillor may ask a supplementary question. Only one supplementary may be asked unless the Mayor allows more."

So the constitution is quite clear on this matter. A supplemental question can only to be asked to clarify the reply to a written question and the original questioner had already asked a supplemental question. That didn't stop Rachel Eden being invited to ask second "supplemental question" which clearly was not to clarify a reply. That made it unconstitutional but who cares about standing orders, it was on the Labour script.

A grip on the council Constitution is clearly not Labour's strong point. Although I had indicated to speak to the main motion, for some reason the Chair asked me to speak to a Labour amendment instead. The difference is that I was not following a script so could change what I said in response to circumstances.

When you are asked to speak to an amendment you do not have to declare whether you are speaking for or against the item. When Labour put in an amendment asking for the administration to look at alternative ways of raising money, I thought it was only fair of me to point out that it was a little late in the budget process for them to suddenly think of it being a great idea and that I'd been doing it from day one. As it happens, just prior to full Council I had spent the afternoon with the Chief Executive and senior managers promoting council services to invited delegates from large national and international companies. I don't need a back of a fag packet amendment from Labour to tell me how to do my job.

According to their script we'd vote it down, they could put out their pre-written press release and go away smug with themselves. Trouble with the Labour script is that although they'd marked it down as something the administration would vote down, we didn't. I agreed with it. I said as much in my speech.

Beetroot faces on the Labour bench. It left them voting against a motion that they had themselves successfully amended. Labour don't agree with own amended motion fiasco!

The problem got worse when the meeting veered even further from plan but the Labour script demanded ploughing on regardless. So it was that when advised with several and unambiguous points of order and a ruling from the monitoring officer that the final Labour motion was against the Council's constitution and could not be debated, the Labour script required the proposer and seconder be allowed to carry on with their speeches. On the one hand it was quite hilarious to watch Labour unravel but more seriously it caused official council business to descend into farce.

The final nail in the coffin was Bet Tickner's faux horreur at the decline in standards and the terror of tweeting councillors telling the public what is going on in the council chamber and a near tearful plea for better standards in public office by Unite union official Debbie Watson. It was real tugging at my heart strings. Except it would have if it didn't come from the party that regularly uses obscenities in the chamber frequently hurling "bollocks" and "twat" during debates and with Peter Jones even calling the chair of the Planning Committee a "silly cow".

[Whilst we're talking about the ridiculous, Peter Jones made himself look even more of an idiot by claiming that he wasn't using his mobile 'phone, he was "using an iPad". Except it was obviously the non-existent iPad-mini given that it fitted in a top pocket. Technologically incompetent. No wonder Reading Labour dislike technology and piss off people with their inappropriate use of the #rdg hash tag on Twitter.]

Let's face it, Labour's sudden love of the dear old standards committee is nothing to do with councillor behaviour. It's because they have been using it as a political tool to waste officer and opposition time for years and are terrified that they will lose another of their campaign tactics. Trish Thomas and Richard McKenzie are amongst many Labour supporters and councillors who have used it to put in vexatious complaints designed to waste council time and thousands of pounds of public money and tie up opponents who have to deal with the bureaucratic process. All it taught me is that I need to stock up on MORE silver bullets next time Richard McKenzie comes along to council - the garlic and wooden stakes are quite clearly not enough.

If Jo Lovelock is not prepared to give her own group a bollocking for bad behaviour then why should the council waste a single penny on something that can do nothing more than deliver a slapped wrist. I made a promise to staff that I would get rid of every single item of non-essential spend before I looked at staff reductions as a way of putting right Labour's mess. The standards committee is one such complete waste of public money but it is typical of Labour that with the toughest budget we have ever had to prepare, perpetuating a toothless dinosaur is top of their list of priorities.

Last night really laid to rest any idea that Reading Labour possess a shred of competence politically or financial ability.

They really were a joke.

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