‘The insincerity of it all’ why change is needed in the council chamber – it should be more about bins and toilets?

Tom McCann has been writing for Hastings In Focus for a couple of years now and in the last couple of weeks he has become our first member of staff. Tom is politically savvy and probably won’t mind us saying that he leans more than just a bit to the left. In the last fortnight, as a reporter for Hastings In Focus, he has had his first taste of local government as it really happens.

It’s interesting how a fresh set of eyes makes you consider, in a different light, something that has become familiar over time so we asked Tom to write about his first close encounters with councillors in action.

Coincidentally at Hastings Borough Council’s full council meeting on Wednesday night there was right old row about making council meetings more accessible and encouraging more people to tune in to watch the goings-on, especially now that Covid has forced meetings online and you can watch them live. But if a young man like Tom McCann who has an interest in politics and what’s happening in his town finds the workings of our council long, drawn out and self-serving what hope of engaging the many people out there who probably wouldn’t even recognise the leader of the council if they met her in the street.

It’s not until I’ve watched Hastings Borough Council meetings that I understood how little I actually understand local politics.

Tom McCann

I never realised how much time is wasted. The council’s most recent meeting, held on Wednesday, lasted two and a half hours! In the course of that meeting councillors referenced their need to ‘up our game’ to encourage the public to watch the live videos of their meetings, but how can the public be expected to be interested in this?

It’s not the length of time that’s the issue, that would be fine if it was spent getting work done and engaging in fulfilling discussion. Instead, watching it, you sit there as they meander through endless fluff that has neither real meaning nor direction.

I lost count of how many times councillors just rambled on, minutes at a time, in agreement with motions already approved; how many times councillors filled the air with technical jargon, derailing discussion and offering empty platitudes that should really go without saying but for some reason absolutely have to be said!

You almost experience a sense of disappointment after watching the meetings, a feeling of ‘…is this it?’ It’s the moral grandstanding that doesn’t actually achieve anything except point scoring among their own and to distract from the topic at hand. I’d call it filibustering, but to do so would be to trust in the idea they would think it through enough as to be a tactic.

…watching middle aged elected representatives giggling to themselves and each other after throwing insults, as if it’s better to feel good about yourself and bring others down than to actually work to make the town better

It’s the insults between councillors during their absolutely inane back-and-forth’s, attacking people’s character instead of their ideals. 

These are councillors we elect who should command respect and who constituents should be able to trust to lead and represent them. Instead there comes across a vibe more like schoolboys in a playground concerned more with amusing themselves by roasting the other kids than actually getting anything done.

It’s childish and it’s embarrassing; with about as much substance as siblings arguing ‘you are!’ ‘no, you are!’

Yes, I’ll say it again, it’s embarrassing; watching middle aged elected representatives giggling to themselves and each other after throwing insults, as if it’s better to feel good about yourself and bring others down than to actually work to make the town better.

Muriel Matters House, Hastings Borough Council HQ.

I’m in no way inferring that councillors don’t work hard nor that they work to make the town worse. I’m sure outside of council meetings they do their jobs very well. It just so happens that council meetings are the only real platform where the public can see them at work and engage with them. Why is it then that while using this platform councillors choose to spend their time – or rather the public’s time – insulting each other? Has the bar in politics been lowered that much, that this is not only accepted but seemingly encouraged? That people not only in a public setting but also a professional one and a governmental one at that can sit there and act like that?

You couldn’t get away with it in an office job. Why can they?

And it’s the insincerity of it all! That one half of a council which is entirely white, majority male and nearly all middle aged or older, can sit there and lecture the other about diversity and inclusivity – and while doing so make arguably ageist comments about old, retired men.

It feels almost at times like some councillors are auditioning for a bigger stage than the one they are on, as if this is some platform to jumpstart a career in politics more than it is to serve the community.

It was only last year I wrote an article asking why an official council letter was to be sent to Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in condolence of the anniversary of the blasts, as if the current geopolitical situation regarding weapons of mass destruction is at all relevant to living in Hastings, let alone matters more than the dire problems such as lack of housing and the near complete lack of public bins and toilets.

I knew I didn’t understand much about local government and politics. I imagine it’s the same for many more. Having now experienced it first hand is it any wonder why, if all you’re left with after a meeting is a feeling of ‘why did I bother?’

Two and a half hours Wednesday’s meeting lasted. Who has the time to sit through two and a half hours?

What would make you give up your time to watch live videos of your councillors in action? Tell us in the comment section below.

10 thoughts on “‘The insincerity of it all’ why change is needed in the council chamber – it should be more about bins and toilets?

  1. I like Tom’s perception of a process that is clearly a shambles. Some of the irritating and cringe-worthy behaviours of councillors we have been unfortunate to witness at close quarters (thanks to technology) are worthy of Spitting Images. Shame they also seem unable to do anything!

  2. What an accurate perception Tom has conveyed here about these council meetings. Having witnessed them these councillors are in another world. Or as Graham Wilkins aptly states worthy of “Spitting Images.”
    So much pontificating and self importance among themselves consuming time with little results.
    And as Tom says about bothering to go to the or now listen to them online is not worth the bother. Mind you doing some knitting or crochet at the same time might be more productive !
    Mr Lavender’s observation is spot on. Yes it will no doubt be pretty much the same cabal.

  3. Unfortunately we can get rid of ALL of them. I suspect that if no-one voted, the same people would just stay in post. Until we have the option of selecting “None of the above” we will not have true democracy.

  4. Most councillors are ageing mediocrities bereft of vision, competence or the will to get anything done.

  5. Sadly, because of the way the election process in Hastings is structured, only 50% of the councillors are up for election. You would need a complete rout to have any significant change in the majority.

  6. Hmmmm. A man ranting about men ranting – how novel!

    I was the Cllr who brought the nuclear prohibition motion to full council so I’d like to address why I did this; as Tom McCann is “very left wing” I won’t need to explain the importance and significance of ‘solidarity’, ‘intersectionality’ and ‘anti-imperialism’. Martin Luther King in his 1967 seminal Riverside speech on the Vietnam War encapsulated many of these themes when he connected impoverished Black people in the US to those of Vietnamese peasants, whom American Black soldiers were sent to kill in the name of liberty and democracy in Vietnam, the very rights Black people at the time didn’t have in the US. Britain is in the process of spending £100bn on the renewal of Trident, a nuclear arsenal which, in theory, we will never use, and if we did, it will be global destruction. All awhile we have 1,000 kids in Hollington living in poverty. Did HBC spend much on emailing a couple of letters to Hiroshima & Nagasaki? No.

    Four days after HBC passed the motion, the UN ratified the international Treaty for Nuclear Prohibition – this is a major step in regards to abolishing these barbaric bombs which were not only a war crime when used against the 200,000 civilians killed Nagasaki & Hiroshima, but also the indigenous people of the Marshall Islands during testing, not to mention British soldiers who were also exposed to testing, and later experienced cancers and other health consequences – these are some of the points I covered during full council while proposing the motion.

    Perhaps Tom should watch the Full Council session whereby the nuclear prohibition motion is passed. Cllr O’Callaghan spoke to the economic aspects of renewing Trident and what we could do in Hastings with some of the £100bn. Tom should also ask himself why the Tories unanimously voted against it, but chose not to explain why. I’m sure Tom will be heartened to know I am a woman of colour, perhaps the first woman of colour on Hastings Council, and we have 2 fantastic Black women candidates standing in this upcoming election in May. Going forward we hope Tom will be an ally to women Cllrs, especially women of colour, and moreover, I hope Tom sees the importance of international solidarity, the connection of racism and imperialism, and the significance of a council in the UK sending solidarity to towns elsewhere in the world. By the way, we also sent a letter to the British Secretary of State for Defence, if all UK towns did this, it would be a very significant act of Parliamentary lobbying.

    Oh yeah, bins and rubbish are literally the bread and butter of conversation at the council, check out my Facebook feed – I have photos, Memes, videos all about rubbish. #Binwatch: ‘pick it, bin it, win it’, are just a couple of my campaigns. And for those who are REALLY passionate about rubbish, you should tune in for the Joint Waste Committee meetings, they’re live streamed on Youtube and can be found on the ESCC website. There are reports from Biffa, info on recycling quotas and the future prospects of electrifying our dustcarts.

    Why have some public toilets in Hastings been closed? Short answer – 10 years of austerity, bailing out bankers, local authority cuts – all connected with Tory corruption, Tory cronyism #DodgyDave (who was also responsible for #austerity) #Greensill #Serco #CovidContracts #SupplyChainFinance … The arguments at Full Council on Wednesday were basically all about the issue of Tories financially gaining while the rest of us get poorer.

    Covid 19 has helped people realise that, despite having nation state borders, the planet is interconnected. What happens in a wet market on the other side of the planet can severely impact us in Hastings, the same principle applies to climate change, war and nuclear bombs. Think globally, act locally!

  7. Having read the lecture by Cllr Evans, I feel forced to make another comment. Firstly Cllr, I was in Vietnam until the Last Day (April 1975) of that war and therefore can state it wasn’t just blacks that were sent there by the US Government. There were white people, Hispanics, Puerto Rican’s anyone who had a US passport were sent there. So please don’t suggest it was only black people were sent there.
    How about your Tony Blair who sent British soldiers to fight in Iraq. I guess as he was a Labour man that is acceptable?
    While it is all very noble of you to educate us as to the various global issues that should never have happened, is HBC the place to crusade on those you have listed? You make mention of 1,000 children in your Ward who are living in poverty. While interesting how you have derived at that figure, I would have thought your time be better spent on this plight.
    As for Tom McCann’s insight into these council meetings and having witnessed them myself, I thought his account was really accurate. All the comments here concur with him.
    And as for one local issue you have raised about the public toilets – what a reason for closing it and demolishing it – all the Tories fault! There was a way around that as some towns now do. A turnstile where you pay 20 pence to use the facility. That surely would have been a way around this sad reason for demolishing it.

  8. I wonder whether Tom would have found the council meetings were more productive if the council did not have a majority party? There is no need for the majority party to genuinely discuss topics to create a consensus, only follow the party line in their voting. A non-majority led council would have to work much harder to achieve objectives; but I think we would have a more representative council….

  9. What an insightful and engaging read from Tom McCann, and further (very) familiar sentiments from constituents.
    I don’t live in Hastings any more, but had recently spent eight years with you by the great British seaside from London ( DFL scumbag!!)
    Joining a local Labour Party again, I thought it was a good time (in my middle age) to be more community minded, and help if I could.
    It’ can be overwhelming to find yourself amongst a new tribe, but, like any fans of a pop act, or popular tv show, once like minded people get together, they tend to discover similarities and a communion in the passions you all share.
    With Labour in this town this was an illusion quickly shattered.
    In the course of my eventual understanding, It was necessary to delve deeply into the Labour movement; not 21st century Labour, or even Corbyn’s vision at the time, but a culture lost in Britain somewhere around 1985.
    Long lost ideas from the days of my youth seemed fresh and vital amongst cabals of women only quorums, long outdated sentiments about LGBTQ people, and of course….. Palestine.
    In a coastal town, with many of the issues that many coastal towns face in Britain, Hastings desperately needs an enthusiastic and modern approach. An approach that has to involve the real folk living and working there- shop workers, trades, small businesses, mums, dads, and children.
    Labour, given a fair wind, can be rather effective in the pursuit of the many for Britain.
    Local government is one of the engines of change like this – given a fair wind, but systemtic change for local government in places with challenges like Hastings, and many other towns, is long and relentless struggle, requiring clear heads, a professional grasp of public finance,, and an obsessive focus on the tasks at hand.
    Sadly, until Hastings gets a team like this, to run local affairs, you will retain inexperienced, badly chosen, single issue activists, and old hands from a bygone era( that arguable may not have even been effective back then!) coalescing into the shambles you see today.
    Hastings, you deserve so much better. X

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