IT was a bit like the kind of kids play fight where a bit of messing about suddenly turns nasty; tears flow, the kid who punched a little too hard begins to feel bad and starts to look sheepish before a weary parent has to step in to tell them all to play nicely.
Yet these were the adults running Camden Town Hall. There was Monday’s full council meeting ticking along with the usual back and forth, you did this, oh no we didn’t, when council leader Keith Moffitt suddenly pushed this energy-sapping parlour game into flare-up territory. Talking about a letter that appeared in the CNJ last month from Labour leader Nash Ali, he lit the fuse with this little line: “I don’t know if you wrote the letter yourself or not.”
Whether it was supposed to be an attempt at wit or a genuine attack on his opposite number’s written skills – I’m not sure why he said it – Cllr Moffitt was at once faced with the rage of the entire Labour group, all chanting for an apology. Are you saying I can’t write?, asked Cllr Ali.
Long serving Lib Demmer Flick Rea stepped in with a trademark sigh: “Has it occurred to Cllr Ali, that Cllr Moffit might have been given him the benefit of the doubt in suggesting that he was far too nice a person to write such a horrid letter?” This was the closest we got to a parent stepping in to say play nicely.
While Cllr Ali maintained he was offended, Cllr Moffitt batted away the incident by telling the Labour hecklers not to be ‘holier than thou’ and insisting: ‘I will carry on’.
What interested me was whether he could have honestly said that every letter sent to CNJ by his own team of Lib Dem councillors had been written unaided and without guidance or even a spot of re-writing from party spin doctors strategists. Cllr Ali is more than capable of composing his own thoughts but whoever the author letters from all political parties to local newspapers often have a whiff of collaboration and direction from people who are better at playing games with the press. Whatever the colour of the rosette, it’s a shame that these elected politicians can’t write from their own hearts and minds for fear of stumbling off-message.
During the course of the evening, I gather the ‘are you saying I can’t write?’ row went from being the source of angry words across the chamber, to thoughts about referrals to the Standards Committee and then a bit of peace-making in the corridors outside.
Was the hatchet buried with a quick sorry and a shake of hands? Maybe. But there were signs on Monday that relations are getting a bit spikier. If you didn’t know an election was on its way…