“HAVE you ever experienced the frustration of asking a politician, i.e. MPs or Councillors, a question and receiving an answer that has little or nothing to do with your question but more to do with Party propaganda and their own personal profiles? That is what it is like when you go to Full Council Meetings and ask a question as a member of the public during what is referred to as “Questions from the Public” [QFTP]. In addition to avoiding giving a straight answer to a question the Council imposes strict conditions on the questioner so as to make it as difficult as possible for the questioner to make his/her point and if you stray, in the slightest way, from the conditions you are “slapped down” and often humiliated by the “Chair” i.e the Mayor.
You are only allowed to ask one question, you are not allowed to make any kind of statement and if you ask a supplementary question in reply to the answer given to your question it has to be strictly confined the the first question asked and, again, you cannot make any kind of statement. Confused!!? Surprise, surprise the same rules are not applied to Councillors i.e they are not strictly confined to answering the question, they can make statements and prattle on for as long as they like.
There are some Councillors who think it impertinent of the public to question them at all and believe QFTP a nuisance and would like it discontinued or at least to be dealt with as speedily as possible by means of “stock” answers supplied to them by Council Officers. One of the reasons why the Councillors are discomfited by QFTP is that it is a public forum and the “media” are present, including “Your Thurrock”, and Councillors do not like being upstaged or embarrassed by members of the public and having it reported. My reason for raising this issue is to make people aware that they can come to Full Council Meetings and participate by asking questions and the more people do so the more Councillors will be held to account and that can only be good for democracy.
You may be aware of recent publicity regarding the conduct of Councillors i.e. “Chaffrica” the “Fireworks Night Fiasco” and the ongoing issues regarding the Belhus Ward Councillors. Councillors must expect that their conduct, whether they are performing Council duties, performing their role on Boards/Committees of outside bodies, such as Residents Associations, or just appearing in public, will be under scrutiny and will be reported upon and accept that as a price they have to pay whilst holding public office.
I particularly refer to the Belhus Councillors in view of the reports regarding the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt by some residents in the Belhus Ward concerning what they perceive to be a lack of support and complete indifference to their problems. I will not repeat the problems here as they have been comprehensively aired and the residents are continuing their campaign. However I single out Cllr Sue Gray for further comment as she has attracted a considerable amount of attention both as a Councillor and “Chair” of the South Ockendon Residents Association [SORA]. This Cllr [Sue Gray] is currently suspended by the Labour Party for distributing an e-mail containing offensive racist propaganda an e-mail that was described by the police as “malicious” and “untrue”. She says, in her defence, that she did not read the e-mail before circulating it, whether you believe that or not and I for one do not believe it, it was extremely careless of her and demonstrates her cavalier attitude.
She recently presided over a “Special” meeting of SORA at which she, with breathtaking arrogance, declared that she would be making a statement which she would make once only, would answer no questions and when she had finished making her statement those present were to stack their chairs at the back of the hall and vacate the premises.
She then proceeded to “lecture” the meeting with details of, as she put it, her life and what sort of person she was and on completion she declared that as far as she and SORA were concerned “the matter was now closed”. It was a a performance at which I would not have been at all surprised at the appearance of someone holding a red book and declaring Sue Gray this is your life.
Alas this is not the only instance of Cllr Gray’s arrogance and dictatorial manner she has invited and encouraged people to make filthy and offensive remarks in e-mails, allowed members of her SORA Committee to physically attack and verbally abuse a person at a “closed” meeting of SORA and “doctored” minutes of meetings in order to cover up minuted untruths. Cllr Gray may consider the matter of her conduct “closed” but there are many people in the Belhus Ward who think otherwise and may demonstrate their displeasure at the ballot box in May, unfortunately it will not be Cllr Gray who has to bear the consequences.