09:22AM, Tuesday 06 February 2018
It was obvious from the private security guards preventing the public from entering the town hall – a public building – that last Monday wasn’t going to be a good night for local democracy.
The voters – those people, let’s not forget, the council is elected to serve – were eventually allowed in just before the start of a meeting that was to demonstrate just how broken democracy in RBWM has become.
Last week I mentioned it was apt the town hall had been used as a location in a Carry On film.
On the night the cameras were back for Carry On Council – a meeting to hear a no confidence vote in leader Simon Dudley for bringing RBWM into disrepute with his comments about clearing aggressive beggars and vagrants from the streets of Windsor before the Royal Wedding.
Sadly, the farce that unfolded before the lenses of the national and international media would have been dismissed as too incredible if it had been penned by an Ealing comedy scriptwriter.
And for anyone who values local democracy it really wasn’t very funny at all.
The meeting, mired in procedural confusion compounded by inconsistent legal advice stifling debate, quickly exposed the underlying tragedy of how our council is run.
Restricting discussion to Cllr Dudley’s comments on the homeless prevented opposition members from referring to his past controversial behaviour, a point they felt integral to putting the no confidence motion in context. And members of his own group were silenced – after protests from the public –when they tried to speak positively about his record.
Even frustrated members of the ruling Conservative group were compelled to apologise to the public for the disgraceful debacle.
When free debate is stifled in favour of arguments about inserting commas in motions – swiftly followed by motions about motions – you just know the already foundering Good Ship Democracy is heading for the rocks.
And of course no meeting is complete without an attack on the Advertiser. A little ironic to moan about the media in front of several television cameras.
But it’s always much easier to criticise the press over its reporting of something than address the thing itself.
And the elephant in the room was that, despite this shameful public display, the result was always a foregone conclusion. The ruling group was clearly whipped into lining up to heap effusive praise on their leader.
If the debacle proves anything, it’s that RBWM is perfectly capable of bringing itself into disrepute. Cllr Dudley’s comments have simply served to expose its fundamental flaws.
As always, the losers when democracy is broken are the public. The vote, with the ruling group’s still unassailable majority, was never in question.
But it gave councillors the chance to show their mettle, or lack of it.
And the public will have taken note ahead of the only vote that really does matter – next year’s local council elections.
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