EVERY time someone dare says what potentially the majority of councillors think, that Camden’s full council meeting is no longer fit for purpose, there is a vague promise from up top of a review and future reform.
Laid bare, and this is not a new complaint, the dysfunctional all-member session has lost most of its meaning, swamped in squabbles or ego trip speeches. The public have reacted with their feet, evidenced by the dwindling numbers up in the gallery and deputations. When the public do get to talk, it could be said they are more or less rushed out of the door, or at least met with rigid opinions.
And with a large, whipped Labour majority – the majority is of course not the fault of Labour’s leadership – it has become even more tedious. It means two thirds of the meeting, at least, will be filled up with aching back-patting and Labour backbenchers inviting cabinet colleagues to tell everyone how great they’ve been. And, while there are grumbles about how pointless this charade is, everyone just puts up with it. It means Labour seniors are saved from any risk of potential embarrassment by having to discuss and vote on awkward topics, but at the cost of any real, meaningful debate.
Now, I’m aware that Camden are getting a little of tired of being pointed in the direction of their neighbours in Islington, who beat Camden to the punch on building new council homes and enforcing a boroughwide 20 miles per hour. Labour councillors take it personally if they are told too often about the ideas being tried out across the border.
But Camden could do a lot worse than digesting what happened in Islington last night, where councillors seem aware that Labour’s ugly majority – they hold every seat but one – risks eliminating any chance of debate and scrutiny. So they have agreed to shake things up, now. They haven’t just promised to look at things, finding the long grass in the process. Five months from election day, a vote sailed through agreeing to implement constitutional changes.
It all means that Islington Council will now, with the decent aim of ‘broadening representative democracy’, have an hour of public questions at each full council meeting.
The changes will also see:
* The council leader hosting a series of Question Time-style events to take further public questions throughout the year
* A report at each full council meeting from a Youth Council teenage
and, this one is really interesting:
* A new system for online petitions whereby 1,000 signatures score an official response from councillors, while 2,000 trigger a debate at the Town Hall
While Camden has been forever promising that never-seen review, it seems Islington are at least going to take the plunge. It will be worth evaluating their success.