Friday, November 24, 2006

The Spirit of Darlington?

...well, perhaps it's a slight exaggeration to say that the shade of the great orator and Bristol MP was stalking our Council Chamber tonight, but there were some good contributions on both sides. It's in stark contrast, frankly, to my experience over the last 8 years , where Council after Council I'd leave shaking my head as the Tories wouldn't have asked a single question of Cabinet Members, and I'd be home in time for East Enders.

It was also positive to see the competitive but good-natured way in which the debate developed. As I've commented elsewhere, I believe some of the cycnicism about politics here in Darlington has been generated by the non-existant nature of the opposition. With no effective questioning voice, the democratic process inevitably suffers. Now at last the Tories are "up for it" - albeit that they continue to focus on their own narrow political advantage rather than what's in the best interests of the Borough.

Remarkably, the Echo sent along two reporters and a photographer tonight. I suspect they were licking their lips having been promised mass civil disobedience in the town by the Tory spinmachine as Cllr. Ruck (see previous post) was dragged kicking and screaming from the Council Chamber. It didn't happen, and I was happy to bring a jovial Cllr. Ruck back into the Chamber when the debate and vote had been completed.


Mike said...

Are these council meetings open to the public? I'd be interested in seeing one at some point.

Or, am I better off staying at home (and doing anything but watch Eastenders!)?

Darlington Councillor said...

Anyone can come along Mike. The gallery's viewing isn't as good as it might be, and for sure between now and May, meetings are going to be a bit "shouty". Nevertheless, I think it's something all interested citizens should do, if at least only once...

The remaining Full Councils in the Municipal year start at 6pm on the following dates;

18 January
1 March
8 March (special Council for the Budget)
19 April

If you do decide to come along, by all means email me, and I'll show you around beforehand.

Mike Barker said...

Something of an understatement there, Nick: the view from the public gallery is appalling. If you sit in the front row and strain forward you can see about two-thirds of the Chamber. Otherwise only about a third is visible. This does, however, enable you to see a pile of boxes and crates in one corner, inexpertly concealed by a rickety screen; trails of electric cable taped to the carpet and, last week, a black overcoat slung on the floor near the mayor's podium.
Councillors have half a dozen hand held microphones. Most do not need to use it: they are perfectly audible in the public gallery, even when we can't see them. However, given the average age of councillors and the consequent deterioration in their hearing, whenever a councillor starts to speak without using a microphone, there are shouts of "microphone!!!" from around the Chamber. The unfortunate speaker then has to hunt around for whoever last spoke from his own party to see who has hidden the microphone down the side of their chair. This is only slightly less irritating than living in a house with teenagers who appear to delight in leaving the Sky remote control hidden down the side of a settee.
There are strange looking white globes hanging from the ceiling of the Chamber, with what appear to be small microphones dangling nearby. These presumably do not work. I'm sure it can't be beyond the wit of man to devise a sound system that works without playing 'hunt the microphone' every five minutes.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, Mike - I've passed your comments on about the look of the Chamber to Linda Todd, who is the manager responsible for meetings. There's nothing she can do about the view from the gallery, however...

There are good equality reasons why we insist that every Councillor and officer uses a microphone to speak. The system has a loop fitted which means it can be picked up by people with a hearing aid. Consequently, whilst you and I can hear speakers without difficulty, those with hearing aids cannot. It's about ensuring that everyone can participte fully in the meeting.

I smiled when I read your comment about "hunt the microphone". I fully sympathise, but you may have noticed that Labour Councillors don't seem to have any difficulty asking for a microphone a minute-or-so from colleagues before they speak. Although we have been using microphones in the Chamber for at least 10 years, it seems to come as a constant source of surprise to some Tories in particular that they are expected to use one.

They seem to be (how can I put this delicately?) very slow learners.

Mike Barker said...

I hadn't appreciated the point about the hearing aid loop. And you're right, apart from Dotty Dot, the main miscreants when it comes to losing the microphone are not on the Labour side of the chamber.
On another matter: I see from the Council Procedure Rules (Para 12) that "Members of the public may ask questions of the Leader, Members of the Cabinet, or the Chair of a Committee at an ordinary meeting of the Council". Not that I want to, but if one did, how would one go about exercising this right? Has it ever happened?

ian holme said...

I have attended many of the council meetings over recent months during and following the hurworth school debacle.

I agree with Nick that the public should attend in order to see the democratic process in action (or not, whichever the case may be...)

One word of warning however, appear more than once and you will get suspicious labour councillors assuming you have political aspirations of your own, or indeed as John Williams said on Thursday, be part of "Tony Richmonds fan club"
I found this particulary insulting. Whilst a number of prospective tory candidates did attend, myself and many others were not among them. By suggesting that anyone showing any intertest in local politics must have some party affiliation or aspiration once again illustrates how far detached from the people of the borough he has become.

Darlington Councillor said...

Mike - as you indicate, Standing Orders now allow members of the public to ask questions of various Executive members (this is a relatively new development - so new in fact that I can't think of any occasion when it's been taken up). Residents wanting to speak have to give 7 days notice, in writing (which seems a bit steep), although they can ask a supplementary question without having to give notice.

Clearly we couldn't have been too scintillating on Thursday night if you were reduced to reading the Constitution!

Ian - I'm genuinely sorry if you were offended by John's remarks. They should be taken in the context of Mike's comment about "braying Tories" - they were making the farmyard noises, and his comments were directed at them.

Mike said...

Thanks for the offer and the information. I'll look into coming along to one of the sessions in the new year.