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.
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.
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?