Plain Jane 250413 blogIf Thanet councillors don’t want people to see them brawling, they should behave with dignity

YEARS ago, when I was young and passionate, I joined the throngs in Hyde Park for a CND march.

In Trafalgar Square at its finish, we were addressed by the Right Honourable Tony Benn.

Three decades on, I can’t remember his precise words (I can barely recall yesterday) but I understood his basic message to be that the powers-that-were should keep a sense of proportion.

At a time when there was Better-Dead-Than-Red type hysteria, he made the mild suggestion that perhaps the Russians weren’t actually poised to invade us, take over Westminster and turn Britain into a Communist state, and that we should keep calm and spend our millions on welfare instead of bombs. Never mind what President Reagan might have to say on the matter.

The details are now hazy but what I have never forgotten is that by the time it reached the TV news that night, his speech had been reduced to a soundbite that had him all but welcoming in the Commies with open arms.

Such is the power of the editing suite as anyone who has ever been on television or been filmed or recorded in any way may know to their cost.

So maybe it was this kind of selective reporting that the good members of our esteemed council feared when they summarily threw Broadstairs resident Christine Tongue out of the council chamber last week for attempting to film proceedings.

Or perhaps they just didn’t want the rest of us to see that one of their number was shaking his fist at another elected representative, and getting rather red and aerated, and that it looked for all the world like a punch-up was on its way.

A spectacle that Christine, of the Thanet Watch blog, found too tempting to resist.

The debate in question was over the fated Pleasurama project and interested parties in the shape of the Friends of Ramsgate Seafront were there.

It was notable, Christine told me, how “articulate and informed” these protesters were in comparison with certain councillors who showed themselves to be significantly “less articulate and informed”, or “downright ignorant” as Christine put it.

“They were very bad-tempered,” she says, “and soon descended into abusing each other.”

Christine, believing it in the public interest to reveal how councillors behave in their meetings, started out by making notes but explains: “When it looked as though a fight was going to break out, I thought I’d get the camera out…”

Upon which, the session was brought to an abrupt halt while they got her out instead. Despite Christine offering to put the camera away for the remainder of the session, she was escorted from the premises by one of the two security blokes (both apparently employed by a firm in Bromley – do we not have security personnel in Thanet who might like a job?).

Independent councillor Ian Driver, who had by now whipped out his own camera and was taking some stills, was expelled a little later.

Bloggers various have since expounded on both individuals’ motives and potential for stirring up trouble but, actually, how is that relevant?

I would take the view on the principle of filming generally that if it’s good enough for the House of Commons it’s good enough for TDC.

Why shouldn’t council meetings be open and transparent?

If you don’t want your public to see you brawling, chaps – I understand it was a female councillor who finally stepped between the two shouters and tried to diffuse the situation – then behave with dignity and decorum. Because, of course, if you play up, we’ll want to watch.

There might be nothing on TV.

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