Tag Archives: Twitter

Will Lambeth Move Towards Transparency?

Lambeth Town Hall

I was listening this morning to edited highlights of a recent Lambeth Council planning meeting (yes, I know, it sounds sad for a Sunday morning but it concerns an important development issue for my patch), recorded by Streatham resident Mark Oxley. It’s almost an hour long (much shorter than the actual meeting) and you can listen to it here.

A fair summary of a contentious meeting, recorded by a resident of the borough. Mark has said elsewhere that he intends to ‘find out just what rules govern taking notes of meetings.’ He was technically breaching the rules. I’ll explain why, and then explain why the rules should be changed.

Rule 20, one of the briefest rules in Lambeth Council’s lengthy constitution, has this to say:

‘No-one is allowed to take photographs of or record using any audio and/or visual equipment the proceedings in meetings unless permission is given at the meeting.’

The chair of a meeting can in theory adjourn a meeting if the rule is being broken, be they the Mayor (Full Council), the Leader (Cabinet meetings), a scrutiny chair, the chair of a scrutiny commission, or the chair of any other formally constituted meeting being held in public (note: council meetings are meetings in public rather than public meetings).

On occasion, ‘standing orders’ have been suspended (by agreement) to allow photography and audiovisual recording, as for example with the Full Council when civic awards are presented, or the rare occasions when public galleries are full and a video link is provided to an overflow room.

Quite frankly, Rule 20 exists for no good reason. How long it has existed and why it exists is a mystery to me. Why Lambeth councillors should not be photographed or recorded in town hall meetings when we can be photographed or recorded anywhere else is indefensible.

Other councils, quite rightly, offer a webcast of virtually every meeting. Here is a link to the feast of local democracy that Maidstone Borough Council has to offer.

That is a sensible way to provide the official record, so that residents who are unable to be at a meeting can catch up with it online. A live webcast which would be placed in an online archive for retrieval seems to be a sensible way forward. Some councils do this, and some, like Lambeth, don’t.

What about the unofficial record, like Mark Oxley’s podcast? Well, if councillors like me can tweet away merrily and even blog from council meetings (whilst paying due attention and guided, of course, by the Code of Conduct), why on earth shouldn’t the public be able to tweet, video, photograph and otherwise relay the meeting to a wider audience?

Neighbouring Southwark has recently agreed to allow people to make recordings in some of its meetings. Well done Southwark. It’s time for Lambeth to follow suit and abolish a pointless rule.

Across the country, councils have varying attitudes to how their meetings are recorded. Some have full, almost verbatim written minutes, some have literally bullet points. Some do webcasts, some don’t appear to be aware of the existence of the internet.

Surely there is a case, given growing concern about the democratic accountability of councils in a time when cuts are being made to services, to establish a national common level of transparency about where and when, and with what level of debate, decisions are made.

Some councils may, given their financial situation, not see investing in webcasting and fuller minuting as a priority. But allowing the public to transmit the words and actions of councillors beyond the town hall costs nothing and would be an important step towards greater transparency and accountability.



Filed under Politics

Consider The Poppy

So I’ve been called a ‘twit’ and accused of getting my “online knickers in a twist” for expressing disapproval of Adam Crozier, the Chief Executive of Royal Mail, who yesterday appeared on the Andrew Marr show to talk about the postal strikes.

I wasn’t making a political point, or expressing disapproval of his interview, though he seemed weak and evasive to me given it was his first interview on the situation for weeks. I was merely pointing out the fact Crozier wasn’t wearing a Remembrance poppy.

This year’s Poppy Appeal was launched on 22nd October. The British Legion says people can wear poppies at any time – all year round if they like – but it considers the appropriate time to be during “Remembrancetide”, the period from the appeal’s launch (22nd October this year) until Remembrance Sunday (second Sunday in November, which this year is the 8th).

The BBC, meanwhile, has no specific policy on poppy-wearing, saying it is “a personal decision”. Andrew Marr, for example, had made a personal decision to wear a poppy.

But should it be a “personal decision” if you are the Chief Executive of Royal Mail? In World War One, 85,000 postal workers fought in France and Flanders and the other theatres of war. 8,500 of them died. So shouldn’t Mr Crozier, as a figurehead of Royal Mail, respect the sacrifice of people from the government-owned organisation he leads by wearing a poppy?

I happened to be on Twitter at the time of the Marr programme, before going out canvassing, so I tweeted this:

Royal Mail’s Adam Crozier is not wearing a poppy on Marr. Bad form.

I did a quick search to find out how many postal workers died in the World War One and tweeted this:

Royal Mail’s Adam Crozier not wearing a poppy on Marr. 85000 General Post Office staff fought in the WW1 alone and 8500 lost their lives.

I returned from canvassing later to find this response from a Lambeth resident called @Jason_Cobb.

@CllrMarkBennett Poppy or no-poppy – Not about “bad form” but personal sentiment. The wearing of a poppy is not a PR move.

Had I suggested it was anything to do with PR? No. I expressed my view for the reasons set out above. So I tweeted back thus:

@Jason_Cobb How DARE you suggest I think it’s anything to do with PR. Personal sentiment irrelevant. 8500 people from org he leads died.

Twitter’s140 characters is sometimes not enough to be able to express a point, so I added:

@Jason_Cobb And consider the sacrifice of people who died in war to allow you the freedom of ‘personal sentiment’. Or was theirs a PR move?

To which @Jason_Cobb responded:

@CllrMarkBennett And how *dare* you interpret my tweet in the immature way you did. Twitter is great in context. This aint one of ’em.

So it’s immature to clarify my point?

I actually quite like Jason Cobb’s general outlook on life and have no desire to fall out with him. People like Mr Cobb often say they want politicians to say what they think, want politicians to engage with new media, and then get all upset or have a spasm of high-mindedness when we express a view they don’t like, or we dare to answer back. 

Having lectured me for immaturity, Mr Cobb has since blogged calling me a ‘twit’ and said I responded to him with a “misguided and failed misinterpretation” of what he said. Consider the trio of negatives in that statement – it would appear to me that a misinterpretation that is failed and misguided is actually a successful interpretation. Ah, the English language.

He goes on to say, with all the condescension he can muster:

 “Twitter is great at many things – context ‘aint one of them … the wonderful shiny new frontiers of 2.0 can trip up any in-experienced local politician that thinks a throwaway 140 character message is going to help them get elected next time round.”

Inexperienced doesn’t need to be hyphenated, but I’ll overlook that because his chosen adjective is not accurate anyway. He might know this if he took the trouble to find out, rather than make specious assumptions. Does he seriously think I am hoping Twitter will help me get elected? The answer to that is: I was out canvassing three times over the weekend, not sitting at a computer.

What is this context he’s talking about? I explained the context, I expressed my view. He expressed his, I chose to respond defending my view. Perhaps he could explain what he means by context. But wait, he then goes on to say:

“Of course there’s a danger of falling into the trap of thinking that all of these online missives are actually of any relevance. They’re not. They’re simply the modern interweb manifestation of rotten eggs being thrown at the people who deserve them the most.”

Ah, there we have it. All politicians deserve the rotten egg treatment.  That must be his context! How refreshingly original.


Filed under Uncategorized