Full council meeting? Nothing happened...

Comment by Ian MacKellar IT is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Not my words, but Shakespeare s in Macbeth. Though I may have felt a bit of an idiot bothering to attend last week s full meeting of Huntingdonshire Distri

Comment by Ian MacKellar

IT is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Not my words, but Shakespeare's in Macbeth. Though I may have felt a bit of an idiot bothering to attend last week's full meeting of Huntingdonshire District Council just to be able to tell you what went on - in substance, nothing.

The meeting was certainly full of sound and a bit of fury, and it definitely signified very little.

As a spectacle, local government was wrecked by the move nearly a decade ago to cabinet government. It had, in any case, been a sport only for public administration anoraks and other Kremlin-watchers since it was taken over by party politics 60 years ago. Those who complain that real people have no interest in democracy need look no further for the reason.

Now, the real decisions are not even taken in public by cabinets - they are taken in private by political cabals. Councillors have precious little influence. Electors have none.

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Councils simply rubber-stamp, and individual councillors who try to represent their constituents are usually flattened by their party machines.

There are exceptions, and HDC has a few very thoughtful members of both parties who resist these pernicious trends. In Pathfinder House, they are ignored politely if they are Tories or peremptorily if they are Liberal Democrats. Evidence of democracy is as hard to detect as evidence of independent thought.

That is largely what leads to the sound and fury and certainly why they signify nothing. The other issue is that, even if anyone did say anything remotely thoughtful, it would be drowned out by the employees of Sir Alfred McAlpine in their quest to replace the council's Pathfinder House headquarters with every available piece of hydraulic machinery within feet of the council chamber.

Combine that with the council's long-past-its-sell-by-date public address equipment and most members' failure to master even the rudiments of an on-off switch on a microphone, and you have the rest of the tawdry picture.

The party-political mantras are very tiresome, and few members can deliver them effectively. Some are perfectly reasonable points, but they need making only once. I sometimes think council meetings would be better if the press were not there - but, of course, we would have no way of telling whether councillors behaved better in our absence.

The council, as we predicted, agreed an increase in Council Tax precept of 4.99 per cent. That was virtually only the only decision of the meeting. The Tories complained about hard-up areas getting some of Huntingdonshire's cash settlement from Whitehall - they must be glad of the advent of the DVD, because a shellac record on the subject would have worn out many moons ago. The Lib-Dems said the system of local taxation was corrupt (same comment) but Peter Downes, a former head of Hinchingbrooke Scholl and that party's leader, made the point quite elegantly.

He was summarily rolled over on a couple of amendments to the draft budget, firstly to save Buckden tip and secondly to earmark £150,000 in case HDC decided to throw money into the pot to build a light-controlled crossing at the junction of the A141 and Kings Ripton Road, where a 16-year-old lost his life nearly a year ago.

Cllr Downes thinks the environmental and economic arguments for negotiating a deal to keep public access to the tip available at weekends are unassailable. The Tories - many of whom are also members of the county council - say he's wrong and the county has already decided to close it. So, end of argument.

As to the A141, the council's leader, Councillor Ian Bates, played the "heavy" and used standing orders to have a vote taken along party lines without discussion, and with the inevitable result. He need not have done that. He could have said - quite properly - that there were legal reasons not to discuss the matter at last week's meeting but that it would be included on the agenda when those issues were out of the way.

So he just cut the process off at its knees, leaving those few members of the public who bothered to turn up wondering why they had made the effort.

As it happens, he was almost certainly right. But he could have explained it more sympathetically.

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