SUDDENLY, motions – and not walkouts – have become the Town Hall’s favoured strategy. Yes, that unloved part of Camden’s all member meetings, which are often talked out, sometimes never reached or occasionally heard after one or two councillors have already called it a night, is at last the show-stopper.
Last night, in response to Donald Trump’s disgusting, divisive, choose your own adjective Muslim travel ban, and on the basis that thousands of their constituents would be affected, councillors passed a motion condemning the new US president’s policy. An emergency motion was ramped up the agenda and councillors took it in turn to say why it is bad, and why their own personal experience or family ties made them even angrier about it. Sometimes, even if everybody is thinking it, it’s good just to say it out loud.
There were some fantastic contributions. If you watch it back on the council’s recording, start with Maryam Eslamdoust’s explanation as to why this one hurts so bad.
For a motion which had unanimous support, there were flashpoints of political anger. Some Labour councillors treat the Conservatives sitting opposite like voodoo dolls for Theresa May and her cabinet, so we had Rishi Madlani riffing about a ‘pound shop Thatcher’ a few times. But while there was a difference in style and compromise, after 40 minutes everybody put their hands up to show they didn’t like the ban and that Camden should be on the public record as being opposed. And good on them too, it’d be easy to make a sarcastic comment about Trump quaking in his slippers over the thought of Camden Council coming at him, but in these desperate, confused times in global politics, where not a lot makes sense, you can understand a desperation to something, anything.
And yet, as they looked at their phones and tablets, for we well know they spend half of these meetings doing just that, we could be forgiven for thinking that if they wanted to make their points more powerfully to the President and to the people who voted him in (and can vote him out), they might have been in the wrong place. Could, for example, this ready made line of resistance to Trump at the Town Hall have left their seats, stopped talking to themselves and a handful of election hopefuls watching in the public gallery (and a webcast with unknown live viewing figures), and headed to Downing Street and joined the thousands saying it in numbers. Pictures of the growing crowd and people pouring into Whitehall were trending on Trump’s favourite social media channel, Twitter. The one above is from Westminster Police.
The language inside the Town Hall last night was often linked to that of Holocaust Memorial Day, with a warning that something similar is on the horizon. If that is really where we are at, shouldn’t we all be out on the streets. You, me, them, everybody. Nobody is suggesting that the motion wasn’t welcome or important, but with minimal tinkering of the agenda, then the councillors could have done both: a protest in the streets and then back to base to outline their opposition in a motion. Would it be so radical to start the meeting at 8pm on a special occasion?
After all, there is a semi-precedent for postponing council business. In the week of the Scottish referendum, councillors walked out on their session to attend a rally in Trafalgar Square and listen to Eddie Izzard and others talking about the importance of the union. Truth be told, the event was not really the historic night out that it had been billed as and I know some councillors have since changed their view on whether the walkout that evening was worth it. Last night’s rally, however, had just as many people filling central London and the councillors were possibly talking more passionately about this subject than any other I’ve heard before. You felt like some of them were itching to be outside, with a placard, although before the meeting I was told by the Labour side that going to the protest wasn’t possible because, unlike the Scotland case, there wasn’t cross party agreement. The Tories, in turn, the suggestion of another walkout was never put to them.
As it happened, Sian Berry, the Green councillor, did go. She turned up unashamedly late to the Town Hall having been in the crowd, but still had time to talk in the council chamber debate and vote too. She had missed some affectionate tributes to former Labour councillor Sybil Shine, the unpredictable resolute former councillor who died earlier this month. I think she would have had Sybil’s blessing, though. Sybil might probably have done the same.