in Wandsworth

I've long seen council meetings as pointless.

When I was part of majority group and on the executive I shared the view with most colleagues that council meetings were necessary formalities: set-pieces we had to put on to show democracy being served knowing that the decisions had all been taken in the Leader's office, before being ratified in a private group meeting and then whipped through a public committee meeting.

Now I'm just an independent councillor I think the same way. I just don't like it anywhere as much as before.

Having gone down to four meetings a year makes them even less relevant, too infrequent to be meaningfully effective at anything. But, occasionally, timings help. And so it was at this week's meeting when almost all the evening was given over to a debate surrounding the EU referendum and the Brexit decision.

The role of local government may seem unconnected with our membership of the EU, but like every other part of the country Wandsworth benefits from EU funding. Perhaps more importantly local government has its role in providing community leadership and after the worrying increase in hate crime since the referendum I'm pleased the opportunity was there last night.

The basis of the evening was a motion moved by the Conservative and Labour party leaders. Perhaps inevitably for a bipartisan motion it became something of a mishmash to satisfy everyone, but it contained what I think were key clauses to:

ensure that all voices and points of view are listened to, and in particular that all Wandsworth residents and employees continue to enjoy the respectful, inclusive and cosmopolitan quality of life which makes this such an attractive part of inner London;

and to

condemn racist language and behaviour in all its forms.

I was particularly pleased to see those elements. Following the referendum the failure of the council and its leadership to use its voice to condemn the increase in hate crime (and Wandsworth has not been immune from this) concerned me.

But while a bit late (and taking a bit of prompting from the independent's statement and motion) it became an evening of optimism and unity. While I suspect from many of the majority group speeches that their membership, from top to bottom, is far from representative of the 75% remain vote in Wandsworth, there was a unanimity among councillors to make the most of the situation and most importantly to condemn hate crime and racism.

There were two attempts to amend the motion, both from the Labour side. One sought to strengthen the commitment to fight hate crime by declaring Wandsworth a zero-tolerance zone and working with other agencies, like the police, use their combined resources to identify and tackle hate crime. The Conservative group defeated this.

The other was related to the refugee crisis, and sought to commit the council to signing up the government commitment and house 10 Syrian families. Again, the Conservative group voted against this. However, one Conservative councillor tweeted afterwards that it was because they felt it should be more than ten families. I can only assume that position had been agreed at the Conservative group meeting, so have written to the council leader asking for clarification to see exactly what number they are committing to accept.

There was one more motion, it came at the end of the night, despite being the first submitted and, arguably, the one that started it all. The motion was moved by Malcolm Grimston and me to allow the council to make a statement following the Brexit vote. Bizarrely the Conservatives amended this to something that meant almost exactly the same.

No-one could explain why, the closest we got to an answer was from Cllr Cook, who told Malcolm Grimston the amendment meant the same thing, but was different. In a rare night of a council meeting showing leadership, I suppose it had to have a little bit of what usually passes for leadership in Wandsworth too.

Leave a Reply