Monday's shambles of a Council meeting
27/01/2016 07:49:00......Posted by Mario Creatura
On Monday evening Croydon's Councillors gathered for another Council meeting.
There has been quite a lot of press about the more than 400 Shirley residents who queued around the block to get in and participate in a debate about our Labour administration's de-designation of Metropolitan Open Land. You can read more about what happened here.
The first item on the agenda was a rather confusing set of amendments to the Council Constitution. Whilst admittely not the sexiest of subjects, it was a very important matter that was rushed through without debate or with the unanimous support of councillors from both political parties. You can watch the exchange here (which includes a political intervention from the theoretically neutral Chief Executive of the Council). I had intended to speak in a debate against the changes, but the Mayor did not allow that to take place. Here are the amendments that restrict members of the public the freedom of speech that our democracy should enshrine. I intend to write about this in greater length at a later date.
The next item on the agenda was the debate on Shirley's loss of metropolitan open land. You can watch the full debate here.
Key moments include:
After the debate, Cllr Fisher moved that there was a 'suspension of standing orders' to allow a vote on the Shirley debate. It was seconded by Cllr Chatterjee. Now this bit may be a slightly confusing so bear with me. A 'suspension of standing orders' means that the usual procedure (in this case for the public petition) would be suspended. The councillors would have to vote on whether this should be allowed to happen. If that suspension had been agreed by a majority of the 70 councillors then the councillors could then vote on whether they agreed or disagreed with the premise of the petition. This vote would have no formal standing and no bearing on Council policy, but it would enable the public to know the mood of the Council. A reasonable request you'd think? Despite this, the Mayor ruled that it would not be allowed.
Cllr Fisher asked for a 'poll vote' on the suspension of standing orders. Normally when we vote it's by saying 'aye' or 'no' and it comes out as an undistinguishable wall of noise. A poll vote is where the name of each councillor is read out and we vocally and individually say how we are voting, revealing the individual intentions of each of us. The Chief Exec said this was not allowed, but confirmed that councillors could "have a vote on whether they wished to have a vote on the matter at hand, but that this would be taken in the usual way of a 'yay or nay', and if you want to take a show of hands we can take a show of hands, but you cannot have a poll vote and from then that decision we can decide whether a vote will take place." After a brief intervention from Cllr Newman, the Mayor of Croydon decided not to allow the vote to take place, saying: "We've now had a period of discussion on this, and we've spent a lot of time on this, and I think it's very clear what opinions are in the room, and it's now my decision that we move on. I need to move on." Understandably this was not appreciated by the public.
I politely asked the Mayor for a point of clarification: "If there has been a motion put forward by a councillor in the room, that has been seconded, are you allowed to overrule that?" She did not choose to answer, saying: "I will not discuss this further."
The Mayor was undestandably in a very difficult position and so she chose to suspended the meeting for 15 minutes.
The Mayor is the politically impartial guardian of free debate, guaranteeing our political processes are fair to all. The Chief Executive had explained our request was entirely justified and in line with the Council Constitution. The Mayor chose to rule against that justification, as is her right. It's only fair to ask: why?
Anyone in the public gallery watching, or the press reporting, who believes that councillors were particularly raucous on Monday evening needs to understand the many reasons why. We are the elected representatives of Croydon and we were denied our democratic voice. Residents were not allowed to see their representatives voting on their petition. The constitution was amended to restrict debate without so much as a debate.
Does that sound right to you?