Star date: 2nd March 2011  


`The Mayor the ringmaster and the chamber floor occupied by clowns…'

Today, Salford Council at its full council meeting voted to enforce £40million of spending cuts.

The Salford Star sent Gareth Lyons to report on the vote. He'd never been to a Council meeting before. Horrified would be an understatement…

Full circus here…

I entered the seat of power in Salford today with the brief of reporting on the afternoon session of the Council's debate on its budget spending this coming year. I never imagined I would leave the Town Hall a couple of hours later in disbelief at what I had seen. The behaviour from some of the elected members on all sides of the political spectrum left me feeling that for such an important debate, these councillors were literally dancing on the graves of the people of Salford.

During the lunchtime protest against the cuts I overheard a member of the public saying to his companion that during the morning session of the meeting, the councillors "acted like it's a f***ing pantomime". I thought this to be the rhetoric of an angry worker. As the afternoon progressed I saw how apt his analogy was.
Reconvening for the big budget vote at 1:30pm it was an almost empty public gallery which greeted Council Leader John Merry, as he walked in (on time, unlike his colleagues) to the deserted chamber. Looking up to the few protesters he said, challengingly and without prompting, "you're a bit late, most of it has been done!" He then walked away, ignoring my question that the debate was supposed to reconvene at 1:30pm for a vote.

At 1:40pm, councillors started to drift in and the meeting was able to start again. For some, lunch may have been a little heavy as two or three of them struggled to keep their eyes open in the crucial debate that followed.

The afternoon fireworks began with a speech by Lib Dem leader, Councillor Owen, which I found it difficult to follow due to the constant chatter of Labour councillors, who seemed to be finishing their lunchtime discussions. The frontbench of Labour council leaders (the six horsemen of the apocalypse) were amongst the worst; behaviour so rude that the Mayor, Councillor Wilson, was forced to address the Labour councillors directly asking them to show respect. During Councillor Owen's speech, I noticed that three councillors, one on the Labour frontbench were playing on their phones.
In fairness as the debate continued the playing with mobile phones was a policy that had full cross-party support. Indeed Councillor Garrido correctly brought attention to Councillor Merry playing with his phone during her speech - but then later on had her phone out of her bag.

One councillor, not content with his phone, decided to while away this important debate for the people of Salford on his laptop, whilst another, if she ever loses office, can set up drawing people's portraits.
I realise in this day and age some people cannot live without their mobile phones for their ability to organise and plan. However, on the front page of the council agenda given to councillors it says quite clearly `Members are requested to ensure that their mobile telephones are switched off during a council meeting'. If a simple request like this is ignored by our elected representatives, what else is ignored?
Leader of the Council, John Merry, responded to Councillor Owen's speech by saying "I am afraid Mr Mayor, that listening to Councillor Owen's speech was like listening to something by General Gaddafi... at the moment."

There was slight laughter to these points but it must go down as an act of supreme arrogance on Councillor Merry's behalf to make such a statement when he and his party had already been asked to show respect by the Mayor. 
Someone should also point out to Councillor Merry that it is Colonel Gaddafi  and not General Gaddifi.

Visibly upset at the end of the debate, Councillor Owen said that it was "insulting and bad behaviour" from the Council Leader, and that the Lib Dems had been unable to gain access to the budget to properly break it down.
Councillor Owen was further humiliated later in the debate by another personal attack. This time by Councillor Hinds who asked the chamber "Is Councillor Owen in the real world?" - before going on to tell the chamber that he would gladly show his backside if the opposition could prove Labour's spending plans to be wrong.

When all the posturing and political point scoring was over, it came to the `crucial' vote, although it was a foregone conclusion, the budget was passed.

Ideology did come into the vote, the Conservative faction of the council voted against the budget, despite being on record from the morning session as to agreeing with 90+% of it. The Lib Dems abstained. I do wonder if the Conservative councillors would have put ideology aside and been able to vote with Labour if the bill was for raising their expenses, and they only agreed with 90+%?

In the end the councillors spent five or six hours acting like spoilt brats to argue and call each other, when the budget was always going to be passed due to the Labour majority. I do wonder how much this show of `democracy' cost the tax payers of this city. The councillors may get the free lunch but we citizens pay for it.

What is more galling is the arrogance, posturing, rudeness  and pettiness which was on display on all sides, when the issues on the agenda revolved around the slashing of budgets, public services, jobs and increasing unsecured borrowing. Some decorum and respect to those who will suffer the most should have been shown.

The councillors repeatedly talked today about "the people & society" and how they want to represent us. Well, the parties you represent all have blame. Fact: this Labour council has wasted money and no spin can say otherwise. Fact: this ConDem Government is not for the working classes no matter how many times Cameron and Clegg might say.

Instead of arguing and worrying about getting elected again, do something constructive and if you can't be honourable get out and let someone else try.
The member of the public who described the council meeting today as a pantomime was accurate. All sides accused the others of being the ugly sister whilst claiming to be Cinderella. 

I thought I may be able to top that by describing what I saw today as a circus, the Mayor in his chains of office as the ringmaster and the chamber floor occupied by clowns…

…However, walking away from this important Salford Council meeting I didn't feel like laughing. Whilst all this childish behaviour is going on, it is the citizens of Salford who will pay the ultimate price.

Words and photo by Gareth Lyons

See Council Meeting Demo report and photos here

Nachtschlepper wrote
at 08:49:24 on 08 March 2011
I may not always agree with Councillor Merry, but I do welcome the chance to exchange opinions via the Salford Star website. I do believe that the Council are acting in good conscience, my objection is that they get it wrong too often. So let us listen to their reasoning & then debate with them.
Give it a rest wrote
at 20:42:24 on 07 March 2011
So Merry is blaming everything on the coalition government now? Not voting is a cowardly way out? Have you ever told Blears that John? I think you should stick to your LIFE rag and not be given a voice on here. THat is the same "Freedom of speech" that your lot give others.
John Merry wrote
at 14:37:04 on 07 March 2011
Thanks Gareth for your comments. It might help if I explain what I mean about "misunderstanding" especially as you can see from some of the other comments on the site that councillors have had to go through a lot in order to set a legal budget. Context is all and the anger that was adressed at Cllr Owen was partly at his refusal to sign up to a pertion saying that Salford had been treated unfairly and partly him saying he was not going to vote one way or the other on the budget. A cowardly way out. Secondly it is the job of the mayor to keep order and clearly he had to intervene from time to time but it was no different from the morning when he had to intervene to ensure Labour voices were heard. That is why I was disappointed that you were only able to report half the meeting Thirdly I personally feel sad that the demo outside was directed at the Labour Party rather than the coalition government and it was important to explain in the chamber the work being done to protect jobs and mitigate the damage being done by the Tories and Libdems. That inevitably meant things got a bit heated. Clearly Gareth that came across in a particular way to you. Others in the gallery felt differently but that does not make your view any less valid and I need to reflect on what you said.
Gareth Lyons wrote
at 20:32:01 on 06 March 2011
See John Merry's comments below... I must thank Mr Merry for his comments on my article, I respect that he took the time to respond and not hide in the face of the anger which some of the posters and members of the public who I have spoken to since the article have shown. There are a number of comments in his reply which I must respond to, I am disappointed that his post still contained the political points scoring and blame game which so infuriates people. I believe that there should have been a commitment on behalf of all councillors to work together to represent the interests of the people of Salford in the most constructive and professional way possible. 1)I do not like the term “misunderstandings” which in my experience having spoken to politicians before, is political speech for “you have got it wrong!” I fail to see how I misunderstood, what I directly quoted and saw with my own eyes. 2)I appreciate that Mr Merry’s remarks to the public gallery were directed to one of his opponents, I would, however, advise that when speaking to an individual in a group/crowd he addresses the person using their name, the members of the public/protestors/press were not sure who he had spoken to. 3)It is extremely important to show that I did not write that Mr Merry had compared Cllr Owen to Col Gadaffi as Mr Merry in his reply wrote, if you read the words from the article (below) you will see this, on a personal note this point is crucial as I stand by what I wrote but will not have words I did not write attributed to me. Leader of the Council, John Merry, responded to Councillor Owen's speech by saying "I am afraid Mr Mayor, that listening to Councillor Owen's speech was like listening to something by General Gaddafi... at the moment." The quote that I used was a direct quote which I listened to a number of times from my recording to make sure it was correct. What I wrote was fair and balanced; I could for example mischievously added that Mr Merry paused before saying “at the moment” having possibly remembered Tony Blair’s handshakes with Col Gadaffi. 4)I did not report what Mr Merry and other councillors from all sides said in relation to the debate because the article focused on the behaviour in the debate, and how the city’s elected representatives chose to act on a day that should have been conducted in a more dignified and respectful manner in light of suffering we are all going to endure. This was quite clear at the start of the article in the Editor’s introduction. 5)I was shocked and still am at the use of phones in the chamber, I hope that those who were using them will be embarrassed without being named and shamed. The same goes for the councillor who was using his laptop. The point in my story was that it is written for phones to be switched off and a number of councillors were in breach of this rule, as if, rules do not apply, how can the council run this city if it does not have any respect for its’ own rules? It was comical to see the councillors playing with their phones/laptop hiding them underneath their desks as if back in school so the teacher wouldn’t find out. I named Mr Merry because Cllr Garrido had made a point on record of saying he was on his phone and in the name of fairness it was correct to say that she herself was later on her phone. 6)Mr Merry wrote that he was “not aware of any barnyard noises in the chamber.” I must say neither was I. Which, coincidently is why my report did not contain any such references or inference. Maybe that impression incorrectly attributed to my article comes from elsewhere? 7)I do believe that using the term arrogance was correct. I must stick by this when the Mayor had told the chamber to show respect to Cllr Owen, Mr Merry’s comments re Col Gaddafi did come across to me and the public who I have spoken to since as arrogant. The meaning of arrogance in this case, that he is too important for the rules to apply to him. In fairness to Mr Merry, he was not by any stretch of the imagination the only person who gave off this impression. Take for example his colleagues on their phones, or talking when others were speaking. I do not understand how they can listen properly to what is being said if their attention is elsewhere. Unless, that is they don’t need to listen properly? This may be the case, most of what I heard in the afternoon session was councillors throwing the blame across the chamber. 8)I am in complete agreement with Mr Merry in relation to insults; people should not put them on this site or any other. We have enough problems in this world without petty name calling. Unfortunately, it seems to be the way of this world that when one puts themselves above the parapet they get shot at! It often isn’t nice or fair. I can only regulate what I write and I have not, and will not resort to personal name calling. When I write I try to be balanced by showing all sides, which unfortunately rules me out of working for most media organisations. In this article I simply reported what I saw and heard and the emotion this provoked in me, nothing more. It seems though that my article was not successful, for all the posturing of whose fault these cuts are, it doesn’t help the people who will lose their jobs, it doesn’t help the people who will have a reduced quality of life because of service cuts etc. This is the tragedy which I tried to get across to the councillors in my article, which in light of Mr Merry’s response, I obviously failed to do, as there were no apologies or commitments for changing the blatant ignoring of rules, merely a desire to correct my “misunderstanding”. The response that I hoped to get was that as a group of elected representatives, they would endeavour, when making such critical decisions they would give it the dignity and sobriety the event should have. Puffing out the party chests, arguing about blame and squabbling about power, playing on phones/laptops doesn’t get people back into work or help the vulnerable when cuts strike, it merely alienates the people they represent and reinforces the many negative beliefs held.
Ed Ward wrote
at 08:53:05 on 05 March 2011
A pantomine indeed .The council cretins blame the torytoff's thatcherite cuts . The toryscum blame the councils .Pathetic .Politicians are all the same -Corrupt .Those that choose to squander and waste the hard-earned money extorted from the Workers by the implementation of corrupt laws deserve nothing but hatred , contempt and loathing .BUT SOON THEIR MISERY WILL BE OVER.
Independant Observer wrote
at 20:02:49 on 03 March 2011
No John you dont hide your name congrats that you can have such luxury. Unfortunately the rest of us have to hide our names as we dont quite trust our democratic right to the freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest actually exists. Salford would have more time for councillors when they truly see its not about them, its about us.Why not lead by example? Take a pay cut, reduce or shock horror do away with all the fringe benefits. Our kids are living in poverty are failed in the care system,some are homeless and yet you take away provision for homeless families. I n the meantime we have high ranking highly paid councillors who live in social housing when they could easily afford to live elsewhere and make homes available for those that need them. As a collective you need to look at yesterdays fiasco and ensure that such disrespect does not happen again. Incidenlally I dont want to see anyones arse on the town hall steps, not funny and hopefully not indicative of the conduct of salford councillors. Once again shame on you all. Im waiting to find out if i still have a job (my husband has alread lost his) and I have to witness the shoddy behaviour yesterday, I expected to be deeply saddened by the difficult choices faced by all parties at Salford, not cry with anger at the contempt shown to each other and salford people.
John Merry wrote
at 16:16:37 on 03 March 2011
Gareth I would be happy to talk to you about what I consider to be some misunderstandings about what went on in the chamber. Just to clear a few points up . My remarks when you came in were addressed to Barry Woodling an old time opponent who I had expected to be present for the morning session when the main debate took place . I did not compare Cllr Owen to Col Gadaffi. I ompared his speech to one of Gadaffis rambling efforts. For a leader of a party to have no view either way on the budget seemed to me to be to be an abdication of responsibilty. On the phones I plead guilty I was struggling through my own incompetence to deal with an urgent message and then turn it off whilst listening to the debate. I am not aware of any barnyard noises in the chamber but there was an awful lot said about the difficult decisions that had to be made that is not being reported. I was struck by someone who urged me not to set a legal budget. When I pointed out that would mean that we would not have the money to pay staff I was told not to worry the staff would support us. That is a version of politics I find arrogant. The idea that workers can be sacrificed regardless of whether they want to be part of a campaign is alien to what I believe. Especially when those elected to lead them tell us they do not want us to set to set a deficit budget or when Salford Against the Cuts regardless of the views of its secretary votes against asking the Council not to set a budget. Now I hope we can all unite against the real enemy. I was told that we were doing the Tories dirty work for them. I am afraid I believe that those who directed their fire against the Council rather than the Tory led Government are the ones who are weakening the campaign. Arrogance I hope not but look at the comments on this site when even Steve has had to appeal for an end to the personal insults and remember unlike many I dont hide my name and have to accept all the brickbats that come my way.
Mike Skeff wrote
at 15:10:51 on 03 March 2011
A very informative and well written article Gareth. I fear things are far worse than people suspect and this article highlights the need to get Salford Star magazine back into print.
Independant Observer wrote
at 14:52:43 on 03 March 2011
How DARE Salford Councillors use such a forum to trade insults which they must have spent all night rehearsing and perfecting instead of contemplating the impact this slaughter will have for generations to come. You dont have to be a head doctor to conclude that a majority of these people must have been unpopular at school and have spent a lifetime in pursuit of personal gain under the guise of acting for the common good. Whatever your politcal leanings it is unacceptable for the council leader to compare a fellow councillor to a mass murdering insane dictator.Afterall JM hot footed it to china on a fact finding mission, was it here that he became aware of the appalling human rights and maybe picked up a few tips. In subsequent full council meeting when our future and that of the next generation is being decided we expect decorum at the very least, not laughter, barnyard noises and a total lack of respect to each other and the people of Salford. Shame on you all
Eddie Banyard wrote
at 14:52:05 on 03 March 2011
Sheeple . It really is time to fight back and smash the System .Thanks to the Star for a superb , well-written article .
Nachtschlepper wrote
at 14:51:53 on 03 March 2011
I'm not really surprised at the behaviour of the clowns dow at the funhouse. It might be better if we handed over the running of the city to a group of schoolkids. Councillor Merry's arogance knows no end, Councillor Hind might be better showing his arse than talking out of it as he usually does. If this shower can't respect each other & behave in a manner more becoming their position then imagine the contemp they have for the rest of us.
G wrote
at 14:51:33 on 03 March 2011
We still don't know who's staying and who's lost their job. The financial year end is looming and no one's told us anything. It's disgraceful!
Andy K wrote
at 14:51:07 on 03 March 2011
Good Sir you are right, and its a story repeated across the country as ideologically tories rip the country apart.
Albert wrote
at 11:24:06 on 03 March 2011
A very well written article Gareth. I like your style.
Red Dave wrote
at 11:24:02 on 03 March 2011
Where was Blears ? A missed photo opportunity for Salford's own Grinning Rat. The pantomime would have been complete. What's next , Salford Council on Ice ? Self-serving , inept , useless , parasitic scum , all of them .Thanks to Salford Star for telling it like it is .THE TRUTH .
Eddie wrote
at 04:56:31 on 03 March 2011
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