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On the evening of 23rd June during a Full Council meeting it quickly became apparent that the Conservative Leader had decided that he had would no longer tolerate debate. This follows on from a recent Cabinet meeting where he decided not to allow the opposition a platform to voice their views. This is of course within his gift but very rarely used by previous Council leaders.
The council functions on robust debate and challenge to allow Councilors other than those forming the Administration to represent properly the interests of their residents.
The new Conservative Chief Whip, Cllr Gurpreet Bhangra (Con, Boyn Hill) closed down debate during the discussion of the constitutional changes proposed by the Conservative administration by moving to a motion of closure- this means that after the proposer of the original motion or amendment has spoken the council then moves to a vote, which if successful then ends the debate going directly to a vote.
This was seconded by Cllr C Bateson (Con, Sunningdale & Cheapside).
Normally a proposal would be debated as long as Councillors wished to speak ending with a vote.
With the administration having a whip deployed and a slender majority each vote was supported by every member of the conservative administration.
When this anti-democratic tool was deployed to prevent discussion of an amendment to a Conservative Report that he had tabled, Cllr Geoff Hill (Indep, Oldfield) was ejected from the meeting for calling out this travesty.
When the debate returned to the Constitutional changes proposed by the Conservatives, The Chief Whip re surfaced again calling for a Motion of closure.
During the vote Cllr Jon Davey (WWRA, Clewer & Dedworth West) raised some questions about the actual motion and after being shouted down by the Mayor, Cllr Sayonara Luxton, also left the meeting. Cllr Neil Knowles (OWRA, Old Windsor) voiced his disgust at the way the meeting was being run and left the meeting. Other independents also left the meeting.
Scrutiny and holding the administration to account requires robust challenge and debate to hold those with power to account. CIPFA reports released this week describe a toxic culture within the Council and recent meetings have seen the Independent group and Liberal Democrats expose poor decisions made by the Tories.
With the Council’s finances being in a dire state, defections and concerns voiced from the opposition and members of the public this is an attempt to stifle debate and therefore prevent normal democratic process to continue. That it is led by the “Chief Whip” means that it is directed by the Council leader removing any pretense that a free Tory vote ever takes place.
Local Councillors are also prevented from properly representing their wards in debate.
Available for interview/comment
Cllr Lynne Jones
Leader of the Independent group