One of my photos

The Boys Are Back In Town

June 18th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 4 Comments · Politics

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild eyed boys that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

So, I went to the town hall on Friday for the annual council meeting, to see my Labour colleagues take their places back in charge and the Tories all back on the back benches. It was a good way to unwind after all the months of the campaign and the tension at the count.

I hadn’t been there for a while and it was interesting to see how much had changed and how much had stayed exactly the same.Physically the council chamber was as bad as I remember it. The seats in the public gallery make EasyJet seats seem comfortable in comparison. There is still no air conditioning: just a couple of windows open to let in the noise of over-revving cars and a couple of fans in front of them. The sound system is still terrible. Quite apart from the fact that I don’t think we have ever had a meeting chaired there by anybody who can control it properly (including when I chaired a planning meeting there once) I don’t think it is that great even when it works.

More than ten years ago there was talk of demolishing the town hall to make way for the town centre north redevelopment. It would have been a brilliant opportunity to start from scratch and get something comfortable. Maybe even get Avensys in to install a decent PA. They come into my workplace and set up far superior sound systems for one-off events so I can only imagine what they could do for a permanent installation.

Looking down from up in the gallery I could see more than a few familiar faces, and that was just with the officers. It felt a bit strange seeing people doing the same job they were doing when I first got elected, whenever that was. In that time I left one employer, did various temp jobs for about 9 months, joined another employer, did one job for 6 years, transferred to a totally different job in a different town and after about 6 more years transferred to another totally different job. I find it hard to imagine what it would have been like doing the same job in the same place for all that time, but I guess that is local government for you. It is probably similar in the civil service.

There were also some familiar faces amongst the councillors, but also plenty of new faces. I think the Labour group looks a lot more competent than when I was there, but I can’t say the same for the new opposition. With the Labour group there are only a couple who I wouldn’t be too worried about losing, but on the Tory side there are only a couple who seem to be worth keeping.

Actually I didn’t recognise half of them, even ones I knew about. I was caught out by the Southgate Tory councillor, the one who thinks we don’t need food banks because the restaurants are busy on Friday evenings. Whenever I had seen pictures of him he looks a bit like Marcus Brigstock the comedian, but he turned up with no beard, shiny hair and a red bow tie and looked more like a life-size ventriloquist’s dummy. I know I’m in no position to pass comments on anybody else’s appearance, but it really was quite a bizarre look.

The whole meeting is really a bit of a formality, to the extent that there are two documents circulated. One is the official agenda, the other is what will actually happen (“X will propose Y for the job of Z. A will then second it. B will offer congratulations” and so on) It reads a bit like the order of service for a wedding or christening.

The thing is, they could easily go further. When it came to the bit where Labour were proposing people for some jobs and the Tories were proposing an alternative I reckon I could have had a fair go at writing down in advance exactly what they were going to say when making their arguments and how the votes would go.

Actually I really hated that bit, because I agree with parts of it and it always hurts to agree with the Tories. Obviously if I was a councillor I would have voted with my colleagues because of collective responsibility and whipped decisions and all that, but in the group meetings beforehand I would have been making arguments very similar to those the Tories were making, as I used to when I was on the council.

I  have always thought that the chair of scrutiny ought to be an opposition councillor, for example. Somebody like Richard Burrett with his pedantic attention to detail would be ideal for it. I know that the Tories were not overly generous with such things and had done a lot to systematically piss off the Labour opposition so there was probably an element of revenge involved. But in a way it would be quite satisfying to be ostentatiously better than them.

Mind you, with the state of the Tory group at the moment I was a little surprised they were actually able to agree on the candidates they put forward for those vice chair jobs. There is very little they have managed to agree on over the last few years if the local papers are to be believed.

Although it was all very interesting I did regret going to the meeting when I got home afterwards and saw on my Twitter feed that the Spain-Holland game that had been on at the same time was so good, but iPlayer saved the day and I stayed up late into the night watching it.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Bob Lanzer

    Thanks for your comments on committee Chairs and Vice Chairs. Good to see that your inclusive view regarding scrutiny is the same as it was in 2006 when the Conservatives took over. We can make many comparisons but one would be to look at those occasions when the main Opposition is 16-strong on the 37-member council.

    So in 2004/05, we had 19 Lab, 16 Con, 2 LibD. In this situation, Conservatives had the Vice Chair of the Development Control Committee, Licensing Committee and the Overview and Scrutiny Commission. I believe that this continued in 2005/06 under Labour, there being no CBC elections in 2005.

    In 2006/07, the council was 19 Con, 16 Lab, 2 LibD. Labour had the Deputy Mayor, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission, Vice Chair of the Development Control Committee, Vice Chair of the Licensing Committee and Chair of the Performance Monitoring Scrutiny Panel. The Liberal Democrats had the Vice Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission.

    Now in 2014/15, the council is 20 Lab, 16 Con and 1 UKIP. The Conservatives have been given none of the above positions but might get the Chair of the Performance Monitoring Scrutiny Panel. This has always been chaired by an Opposition member up to now.

    It is true that what the Conservatives gave to Labour changed as the political make-up of the council changed but whenever the Labour Group was 12 or more strong, it had the Chair or Vice Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission.

    So I would contend, and council minutes will prove, that the Conservatives were more inclusive than Labour today, as was the Labour council of 2004-06.

    Bob Lanzer

  • Skuds

    “Good to see that your inclusive view regarding scrutiny is the same as it was in 2006 when the Conservatives took over”

    I’m a bit vague on dates but I’m sure I was long gone from the council by then so you are making an assumption about what my views were back then 🙂

    However I do seem to recall that there were a few of us who inclined that way who all dropped out at the all-out election, whenever that was.

    Here’s a thought though. If you really wanted to make it inclusive you could have tried to put something in the constitution, some sort of quota for chairs or vice chairs perhaps, or making it a requirement that the head of scrutiny is an opositon member, rather than rely on convention and precedent.

    Didn’t Gordon keep popping up with some over-complicated formula for allocating the mayor job?

    I think I can also remember, after my time, that when you allocated some vice chair job to the opposition you also specified who it should go to (which was not the person Labour wanted) and caused all sorts of mischief in the name of inclusiveness.

  • Bob Lanzer

    My comment about you not changing your view since 2006 was a genuine one. You blogged in spring 2006 about how this was something that the Tories and got right and that you agreeing with us was unusual so you wanted to get it out of your system.

    I think that you make a good point about the constitution. At the moment the only provision of that kind that we have is for a Staff Appeals Panel to include at lease one Opposition member.

    Yes, we did sometimes prescribe names that Labour could put forward for Chairs and Vice Chairs – not all of the time, and they have done the same with the Conservatives.

  • Skuds

    Blimey. And I can’t even remember what I said last week 🙂

    Happy to find I am being consistent!