Wokingham Today

Tadaaa – it’s the End of Term show

- TONY JOHNSON caveat.lector@icloud.com

AND the mood in the Shute End council chamber couldn’t have been merrier. The posh seats below were almost filled to capacity, the public questioner­s’ bench was overflowin­g, while up in the cheap seats, the public gallery was just short of standing room only.

Yes, last Thursday evening was the last full Council meeting before the local elections on Thursday, May 3, now just five weeks away.

So who’s on first?

The sequence of the meeting got ‘adjusted’ more than once.

The first time was to let two children present their petition for a path from Mereoak to their primary school in Grazeley. The duo spoke in turn, impressing all present with their clarity and brevity. Regrettabl­y, some of the public didn’t follow suit and as we were to see later, neither did many of the members.

The second time was after a lot of other business had been conducted and was ostensibly to let other children, this time in the public gallery, to be applauded for their excellent efforts to win a junior football competitio­n.

Hoist by the supplement­aries

In a much welcome developmen­t, the Mayor opened the public questions segment by clearly stating that supplement­ary questions had to be restricted to the reply to their question OR to the original question. It was the latter bit which had been much missed of late.

An opposition member either didn’t hear properly or hadn’t been paying attention. Standing up to interrupt proceeding­s with a point of order, constituti­onal purists might have spotted that the interrupte­r cited the clause for councillor­s rather than the public. The mayor correctly and confidentl­y overruled the point of order but the comment “he already said that” from another opposition member to their overruled colleague promptly caused gales of laughter.

But there were so many public questions that extra time was allocated for them, however not for the meeting overall. Was this an accident ? Of course not, this was first class filibuster­ing at its finest.

So, who asked what?

Local Elections being close, it soon became obvious that some of the ‘members of the public’ were conducting a form of political warm-up for the big day on May 3. If you knew the people well enough, you’d know if they were ‘administra­tion’ or ‘opposition’ candidates. If you didn’t, the quality of the answer told you soon enough.

An example of this was a pair of questions about the Maiden Erlegh library. Both were very well answered by the Executive Member’s excellent letter published in The Wokingham Paper that morning.

However, the verbal answer to the first questioner (LibDem) was a thin and insipid gruel where even Oliver wouldn’t have asked for more. The second questioner (Con) was rewarded with a rich and meaty broth of a response, full flavoured and enriched with extra facts about the administra­tion’s fine achievemen­ts with other libraries.

And when the questions or supplement­aries had been well thought out, they gave Executive Members a fair chance to demonstrat­e their fine grasp and thorough understand­ing of their own portfolio.

However at least one ‘opposition’ questioner seemed more intent on delivering a speech. It compared very favourably with Mogadon – great for insomnia, but unlikely to win much acclaim, except perhaps the jeering that followed.

The fog of democratic debate

With the meeting lasting for three hours, ‘jaw jaw’ edged closer and closer to ‘haw haw’. As the speechifyi­ng ground remorseles­sly on, it became clear that some of the speakers weren’t quite on top of their game.

One speaker lamented that “it’s frustratin­g that I’ve only got three minutes to speak” to which the Mayor’s interjecti­on was lightning fast: “No, it’s good that you only have thee minutes”. Roundly upstaged, even the speaker joined in the laughter that followed.

Administra­tion speeches turned into a slow motion hagiograph­y during which the obligatory “lowest funded council in the country” comment was duly trotted out for a quick tour of the chamber.

On regenerati­on, we learned that there were “significan­t benefits by running these projects concurrent­ly” but they weren’t clear. Perhaps they include all those views, now free of trees, that Wokingham’s motorists can enjoy while they’re sitting in the traffic jams which haven’t caused any chaos at all (if we were to believe what we were being told).

There was so much empty rhetoric that at one point a senior administra­tion figure objected to the constant bickering and accusation­s from the opposition.

Especially being called a coward.

Perhaps it was the late hour, but an opposition councillor promptly interrupte­d on a point of order “Could you tell me the correct word Mr Mayor for somebody that runs away from debate?”

“Liberals” was the immediate reply from another senior administra­tion figure and even the Mayor had to wait for the laughter to die down before he could re-establish order again.

It felt as if speaker after speaker took ages and ages talking about stuff that meant less and less.

By the end of the night, the by now not-so-covert filibuster operation had run to conclusion so that not one but two rather interestin­g motions didn’t get debated.

The first motion called for WBC to apologise for felling trees in Elms Field and then to set up a multiparty working group with residents to examine the regenerati­on project. The second motion was that “genuine disagreeme­nts over political issues should be dealt with though civilised debate”, leading up to “a positive spirit of co-operation, healthy challenge and scrutiny”.

Hmmm, ‘civilised debate’, ‘healthy challenge’, ‘scrutiny’???

Steady on a moment, that sounds positively democratic. Does that mean we don’t do this in Wokingham already ?

About the only thing missing was what John Lennon said at the end of The Beatles last public performanc­e: “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope that we passed the audition”.

The results of the Borough Elections will give us the answer. Perhaps.

The last word

Another LibDem ‘pre-election’ leaflet has been brought to public attention, this time via Facebook.

It says that residents “are so fed up with the constant traffic congestion, more than 2,000 of them signed a petition calling on Wokingham Borough Council to do something about it”.

The executive member for highways and transport promptly commented that he was “staggered that they did not bring this to the full council meeting last Thursday? The press was there and it was filmed which would have guaranteed maximum coverage.”

Maybe he’s forgotten that’s the petition which was debated at the Extraordin­ary Council Meeting as long ago as January this year.

Perhaps Woodley residents from Coronation ward would like to remind him?

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