Yesterday evening I attended this month’s Greenwich Council meeting and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. That may not be much of a shock to most who follow local politics in any way, but this time it was slightly different.
Through some sense of sado-masochism I often go along to these events to see what our elected representatives are up to. I have done for years. It’s a rather thankless hobby but I’m entitled to as a local resident.
Sometimes I ask questions, sometimes I don’t.
If you’re in any way concerned about our local area you should try it yourself at least once – it’s a far cry from the rose-tinted, one-sided view you’ll get from reading Greenwich Time.
Darryl Chamberlain has already covered a lot of the events of last night over on the excellent 853. For the record, and for the avoidance of any doubt of non-disclosure, we’re both on the committee of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.
I shouldn’t have to say this as it’s a matter of public record and you’ll find it at the bottom of each and every post I make on this website. If you live in Shooters Hill ward you may even have seen my name on the ballot paper in the local elections last year. I’m a member of a party that isn’t the ruling Labour Party. I’m a Lib Dem.
It’s important to note that I didn’t ask any questions yesterday. I wasn’t there in any official capacity. I wasn’t making a nuisance of myself. I was solely exercising my new democratic rights.
At the meeting last night I was prevented from filming and watching proceedings not once, but twice. Others were filming and taking photographs in the public gallery but nobody else was approached. I can only imagine that having membership of another party and a vocal, opposing view was the reason. Nothing else adds up.
It isn’t only me. At the December meeting repeated references were made to Conservative opposition leader Spencer Drury’s family and he published a blog post saying that he feared for their safety. I published parts of the exchanges that prompted those fears last month. Spencer has now launched a new website but the text of that article is reproduced below:-
Debating standard reaches a sinister new low in Greenwich Council
A week after the last meeting of Full Council, I find myself still shocked and angry at the way the new Labour Leader Cllr Denise Hyland chose to use my family to attack me. At two separate points in the meeting, the new Leader chose to attack initially my wife (in answer to a question from Cllr Matt Hartley about whether it was right for the Labour Party to use the Council’s internal mail system to distribute their fund raising material) and then to use my mother against me in a debate about the closure of the Rochester Way Social Club. In both cases, the only reason I can see for mentioning my relatives was because this was easier than actually dealing with the issue at hand or answering the question.
On both occasions where she mentioned my relatives, Cllr Hyland’s tactics reflected a new, frightening low in the way politics is conducted in Greenwich. I was first elected to the Council in 2002 and I have never seen anyone use family members to attack Councillors in or outside the Chamber – it simply isn’t done. To provide some comparison, the previous Council Leader Chris Roberts wrote to me when I missed a Council meeting as my daughter was ill in hospital – it was a genuinely nice thing to do and much appreciated. The note made quite clear that while we may disagree in the Council Chamber (and elsewhere) there was a divide between the personal and political and at the end of the day some things (like our families) were more important than abstract arguments in the Council Chamber.
Cllr Hyland’s behaviour suggests that she holds the complete opposite view to Chris Roberts – she is quite prepared to attack me using my family and for the first time since becoming involved in local politics I really do fear for them as a result of me being a Councillor and Leader of the Opposition. The Labour Party locally are notorious for confusing the interests of the Labour Party with those of local residents, so if Cllr Hyland decides I am proving too troublesome I have to assume, based on her behaviour last week, that she would have little problem using the Council’s full apparatus to attack me through my family. What could this mean? The Council is extremely powerful, so would revealing a relative’s medical records or using a child’s results in school be acceptable for the Labour Party? For any opposition Councillors, these sort of actions would undermine them personally and have the bonus for the Labour Party of ruining their political career. If Cllr Hyland accepts that coming after someone’s family in a political debate is a reasonable thing to do, I ask myself where she will draw the line. Are my family now at risk as a result of my opposition to the Labour Party? I am genuinely worried that the answer to this question may be ‘Yes’ under the new leadership – something I cannot imagine having written when the much vilified Chris Roberts was in charge.
So while I pray that my children, family and friends are safe in the new political environment in Greenwich, I suspect I will have to review the situation as it develops. After six months I have no idea what the new Labour leadership believes in or what its vision is for the Borough – what I can tell you is that it increasingly seems to be a group without moral boundaries where anything is fair game, including your family, in a political debate.
I’ve made a formal complaint to Greenwich Council over the events of last night and I’ve also informed the Department for Communities and Local Government.
January 29th, 2015
RE: Prevention of filming at Greenwich Council meeting – January 28th, 2015
Dear Mr Comber,
I attended the Greenwich Council meeting last night at Woolwich Town Hall and wish to bring to your attention a series of troubling events in the public gallery.
As is my right as a Greenwich resident, I wished to see and hear for myself what my elected representatives had to say on my behalf. You will be aware that recent changes in legislation also afford me the right to film, photograph or otherwise record the proceedings as you have amended the attendance pack for meetings giving explicit approval for such activities.
During the members’ questions I decided to take a panoramic photograph of the councillors present and within seconds a man identifying himself as “security” attempted to remove me from the building. When I asked which rule I was breaking I was told that mobile phones and photography were not allowed. On being pressed further I was informed that, “the mayor has told me to get you to stop”.
This intervention subsequently prevented me from seeing the next part of the meeting as I had to leave the chamber to confirm with this member of staff the reasons for his request. Robert Sutton (Deputy Head of Democratic Services) then tracked me down, apologised and confirmed my right to film the meeting.
On my return to the chamber I started video recording the motions at the end of the agenda and I was approached by another member of staff within seconds. This person identified themselves as security, once again informing me I was not allowed to film proceedings. Other members of the public were filming at the time – you can see the encounter at http://853blog.com/2015/01/29/why-did-greenwich-councils-mayor-try-to-stop-a-meeting-being-filmed/ – and nobody else was approached to stop recording.
I can only surmise that these actions were politically motivated as I am an active member of a political party other than that of Mayor Hayes and the ruling group on the council.
I firmly believe that there has been abuse of the democratic process and the mayor may have acted in a politically motivated and impartial manner. I urge you to investigate this unfortunate series of events and look forward to hearing the outcome of any such investigation and your considered reply.
cc. Cllr Denise Hyland, Leader – Greenwich Council; Cllr Spencer Drury – Leader of the Opposition, Greenwich Council; Eric Pickles MP, DCLG; Stephen Williams MP, DCLG; NewsShopper; Greenwich Mercury; Greenwich Time
The DCLG is already extremely interested in the conduct of Greenwich Labour over Greenwich Time – only today they published a final cease and desist notice over the publication of our own Town Hall Pravda.
Local politics shouldn’t be like this. Watch out for your loved ones and neighbours. Look after the people around you. Care about your community and get involved. Stand up for what you believe in.
The omens don’t look good for the “new regime” at Woolwich Town Hall. If I stop shouting, please send for help.
I’ll keep posting for as long as I can…