South Tyneside Council have reconvened last Thursday’s full meeting for Friday 1st February 2008 at 2.30 p.m. With only a few agenda items remaining, the meeting should be over quickly. That is of course, if certain Councillor’s behave with a little more decorum than they did the last time they presented themselves to the public. Hopefully Councillor Maxwell won’t question the common sense of those in the gallery in the very insulting and intimidating way she did last week, and let’s assume that Audrey McMillan doesn’t behave like a drunken teenager getting of the boat after an Amsterdam trip.
Perhaps certain Councillors should avail themselves of the official Code of Conduct, particularly the sections outlined below:
CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS
Introduction and interpretation
(1) This Code applies to you as a member of an authority.
(1) You must treat others with respect.
These are the Councils own words not mine. Quite a simple principal Councillors; its only 6 words and its all you have to do. Perhaps you could adopt this concept when listening both to the concerns of the public, and the views of those who sit opposite you in the Chamber. The Constitution works both ways: if people want the public to honour their obligations, then our elected representatives must honour theirs.
It is very easy to condemn the public, as many commentators have done, for what happened at the last meeting. It’s even easier to apportion blame when you weren’t even there, basing your accounts on second hand (biased) evidence. For the record, the public did not leave the gallery when confronted with the very intimidating threat of the police. Councillors were the first to leave the Chamber, once they’d decided they couldn’t face the levels of scrutiny any more. Neither do the public need lectures from anybody as to how they should conduct themselves. It is one thing to be appraised on the various elements of the Constitution, only to have full time officials and Councillors abuse, misinterpret and ignore the sections which are supposed to enshrine the principals of democracy. Therefore claims that South Tyneside Council is being challenged by a “Militant Tendency” is scaremongering, alarmist and frankly, bizarre. Those days lie very much in the past, and to drag them up in such a way is an indication of the failure of opponents to have any arguments which justify the Councils attempts to gag the public.
For to long the Labour Party have dominated this Borough, running the Council like a private club. Sadly, both the Liberal Democrats and Conservative’s have aided and abetted the Labour Party in their arrogance. Not once did they criticise or question Labour’s decisions to curtail any form of democratic debate, not once have they honoured their political obligations to act as an opposition to this Council’s singular desire to conduct its affairs for the benefit of self perceived elite and their wards. It has been left to the Independent Alliance to time and time again hold Labour to account, and they will no doubt do so again this Friday. After all, it was only their representatives who urged caution and restraint at the last meeting, their opposition to the abandonment of the meeting being ignored by the three main parties.
It will also be left to the public to play a part in the process. Nobody wants to see the events of last week repeated, but neither does anybody want to see the public gallery viewed with such disdain and loathing. Inspector McBribe will no doubt be on door duty at the public entrance, his presence exerting a more sombre influence this time around. For the record, I won’t be at the meeting, but I will post a “factual” account of the fate of agenda items and motions. Hopefully, I will be able to report a swift but democratic conclusion to the whole affair. However, if both the Council and its Councillors insist on the same confrontational and intimidating approach they adopted last Thursday, then they will encounter once again the publics desire to be heard with respect and dignity. They are not lunatics, they are members of the electorate who will no longer tolerate the Councils decision to ignore them, insult them and dismiss their views without consideration.
The outcome of this meeting then, is entirely reliant on the nature of the Council’s approach.