You can’t play politics with people’s lives.
Obviously, I am not the originator of this quote (and I’m not sure Neil Kinnock is either).
It is seldom that I am so utterly vexed by the political chicanery that goes on, that I am ashamed to be associated with other politicians. Today was one such day.
Setting the scene. A full council with a public gallery of demonstrators who want to ban the tax (the #bedroomtax, not the spare room subsidy or whatever nonsense the coalition call it). A motion on the agenda, amendments and a long morning before we got to the main event, a debate on eviction policy of the minority Labour Council in light of the #bedroomtax.
All good so far. The gallery got a bit excited (and hurled a few insults) mainly because they had to wait until after lunch and thought the motion wasn’t going to be debated. However, all calmed down when it was apparent that after lunch the fireworks would start.
Seconds out, round 1
The motion (proposed by the SNP opposition) is not competent. Shock! well no, not exactly they already knew this (everyone notified in advance). The final paragraph (and I wont bore you with the process) was different from the agreed policy of the council agreed at the executive just over a week ago (6 month rule in force).
72 of 78 (6 absent) councillors are geared up (and tooled up with pithy comments and speeches at the ready) stymied. A collective defaltion. Damp squib.
Ditch the last paragraph and we can get on with it. It would have been all the way through the debate anyway. No chance, the rules twonks (insert stronger if you feel the need) come out fighting. standing orders and challenges to the provost’s ruling on the incompetent and an increasingly hostile set of exchanges fill the chamber. Plenty of heat and next to no light as most of us new boys (and girls obviously) have no idea what standing order 60 is (or whatever number is being debated).
Suspend standing orders! (because the proposer and seconder wont change the words of the last paragraph), Role call count so we have to answer agree or disagree to a call to suspend that is going nowhere. Just so we can cast it up at you again in the future.
No suspension of standing orders as we collectively manage to make a total mess of getting the arguement (sorry debate) tee’d up.
Now the playground is really rowdy, with booing and name calling as councillors answer the role call.
The Gallery (not full of rules twonks) are incredulous and think the administration are trying to stop the debate. One which we have prepared for, one which we want to have and one in which ( and here’s the rub) we basically agree. definate political chicanery in action.
The Administration position is that we will not evict anyone who falls into arrears (because of the tax/subsidy thingy) who contacts the council and works with us to deal with the problem. The incompetent motion – we will not evict anyone who has rent arrears from the bedroom tax.
Huge difference, obviously.
Angels on the head of a pin.
We wanted to have a debate that highlighted what we could do to protect our residents, we wanted a debate that showed Gidders/IDS and their gang were wrong, we wanted a debate that said we will protect you, the residents of Fife. We wanted a debate so we could score some cheap points off each other (sorry sarcasm slipped in).
What did we get? Punch and Judy, rule this v Standing order that and a gallery of people who didn’t know what the hell was going on. I might venture, that some on the floor of the chamber were in the same place (confused dot com). In the end with no motion there was no debate. Zip. Nada. Eff all (to use the vernacular). Rammy ensued. Gavels banged and a few faces went red/puce or betroot.
Sorry it took longer than I meant to get to the point, and here it is.
You can’t play politics with people’s lives.
Now it will be a case of spin and counter spin, lies and mistruths played out in the press until we get to do it all again next time.
This bedroom tax is a disaster for many of the people we merry 78 are supposed to serve, after todays showing we have failed them terribly. there will be over 5000 families across Fife (and 1300 more in housing associations) who will be worried about the impact of this change to housing benefit, who were looking to us to make clear what to expect, who wanted adults not children debating and deciding.
Their lives will be blighted (while most of the councillors will not be) and their purses constrained and all we offered them was finger-pointing and hot air and barely a whit of sense.
I have seen the spin tweets from fellow councillors and they just make us look like a bunch of twits (definitely insert stronger).
No wonder Politicians are reviled, distrusted and treated with contempt. Sometimes we just help our poor public image along.