FIVE public deputations walked through the Town Hall door on Monday night, and for a moment all the warnings we’ve rehearsed on these pages about the lack of public engagement at Camden’s flawed full council meetings seemed to have been stuff and nonsense. They had come, the people had actually come to speak in front of the councillors.
Yet when two women billing themselves simply as two local residents worried about fly-tipping in West Hampstead had finished their complaints, there was a collective ock aye from the ruling Labour benches and the full compendium of arched eyebrows. Lib Dem Flick Rea took this palpable whiff of suspicion further with a comment, rich in sarcasm, about wondering why there was a sudden interest in the west of the borough.
While Chantelle de Villiers, pictured above, had been talking about the obstacle course of rubbish she defeats each day to get to the station, councillors were looking her up on their mobile phones to find a Linked In profile revealing employment with a Tory MP.
Further growly sneers were emitted when they discovered that Ms de Villiers has campaigned locally for the Tories, who, you know this already, have made West Hampstead an election target and fly-tipping an issue with which to take on the council’s Labour leaders.
Her fellow deputy, Helen Harris, had similar results from a blast on Google. ‘These people are future Conservative councillors or at least candidates!, the sceptics What’s Apped to each under their desks. ‘Maybe CdV will be the next CLL’, said one Labour councillor.
The Tories retaliated to this stoogey innuendo with short and snappy answers at the end of the meeting: “They are residents. They are concerned by fly-tipping. What’s wrong with them coming to say that at the council meeting? It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”
It’s true that we would have nobody at all coming to these drab, point-scoring sessions in the chamber if anybody who had a political affiliation was banned from making public deputations without declaring them first. Liberal Democrat election candidates left it late to reveal their party allegiances during the the Prince of Wales swimming baths campaign ahead of the 2006 local elections, unveiling yellow rosettes just in time to briefly win seats in Kentish Town.
Labour, meanwhile, has supporters stacked in community groups who sometimes appear at meetings knocking central government policies while rarely criticising local Town hall strategy,
On Monday, CdV – definitely not a stooge – told the room: ‘“I wouldn’t want to get into party politics. I’m just a resident. I walk down West End Lane pretty much every day and I’m having to walk over these piles of bin bags.”
But the corridor tipsters were already opening an imaginary book on whether getting into party politics is exactly what she will want to do in a couple of years. Time will tell whether we see CdV in this room again, on the green benches. Some of the older councillors, after all, are already talking about passing their seats to younger recruits in 2018.