Labour's Tricks Of The Trade!

Jo Biddolph's blog on the difficulties of being a minority group in Council

Jo (in green coat) with local anti cycleway campaigners


Enhancing The Thames With Sir David Attenborough

Making Plans For Petition Against The CS9

Refusing to Hail Council for Their 'Entrepreneurial Flair'

It's Not an Election Bribe and I'm Not Calling It One

Where Was Everybody at the Chiswick Area Forum?

I'm Sorry, I'm Not Being Negative or Anything But... W1A in TW3

How I Surprisingly Became a Feminist Historian

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Prioritising drinks over democracy

There are a lot of procedures, and there’s a lot of jargon, in local government. Being on top of them is essential. Unlike the majority group, from whom it’s rare to hear a single word during full borough council meetings, unless they are members of the cabinet or councillors who chair committees or panels, the nine of us make a point of contributing. If we aren’t thwarted by a trick of the trade.

We have a new mayor. His inaugural reception was a much more low-key affair than the previous mayor’s as he decided to spend less on his party so he could lay on food and drinks after full council meetings (there are usually six a year). It’s a nice idea in principle; we don’t get many perks and it can be useful to socialise with the other side.

At the recent July meeting, I was on the edge of my seat getting ready to introduce our important motion on the closure of Hammersmith Bridge which has meant traffic gridlock on our main roads and rat -runs causing tail backs down what should be quiet residential roads.

The council’s constitution stipulates that borough council meetings cannot last longer than two and a half hours unless a vote is taken to allow extra time. If it looks as if more time will be needed, a councillor is entitled to move standing orders to extend the time. It’s routine as it’s often the only way to get through the agenda. So, as the debate on our climate change motion was drawing to a close, one of Chiswick’s councillors moved standing orders. A vote was called and, with nine cllrs on our side, and 50 on the other side, we were voted down. The meeting ended without me uttering a single word about the bridge.

I presume the other side knew what I was going to say and didn’t want to hear it. I’d have revealed that my request for Cllr Steve Curran, Hounslow’s leader, to ask Sadiq Khan and the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council to reduce the impact on Chiswick, had had no response at all. I don’t mean that he hadn’t contacted them. I mean that he hadn’t even had the courtesy to acknowledge my email. He had instead issued a press statement though I only found out about that a few days later.

The result was no debate. No support for Chiswick. But plenty of time for wine, sandwiches and samosas. It’s prioritising drinks over democracy.

As it happens, and thanks to Tony Arbour, our GLA member who will be badly missed when he steps down next year, we’d already had a meeting with London’s deputy mayor for transport and TfL‘s principal traffic control engineer, on Chiswick’s most congested corner. This resulted in a commitment from TfL to manage Chiswick’s traffic throughout the time the bridge is closed. But why isn’t our council leader concerned about the effect on Chiswick (and Brentford and beyond) of a closed Hammersmith bridge, particularly as it could take three years to fix?

Wrecking amendments and being talked out

Borough council agendas allow for up to three questions from each of the groups – the majority party and us – taking up no more than 45 minutes. The convention is that questions will not be so long that they turn into speeches, and answers will be factual and to the point,-not proselytising sermons or lectures -and should not last more than five minutes. One trick from the other side is to start an answer saying, somewhat contradictorily, “I’m afraid my answer is rather long but I’ll try to keep it brief”. Which will it be, do you suppose?

The agenda also allows for 30 minutes for debating up to three motions in total, with both sides trying to table them early to be top of the list of three or taking up all three. The standard practice is for the other side to table amendments to motions, often wrecking them and … prolonging the debate on their preferred subjects, stifling debate on subjects we want to consider. Our preference is to be straightforward with our amendments. For example, with Labour’s recent hate crime motion which condemned “the right wing press and some politicians”, leaving out any criticism of the left, our amendment stated simply that “we condemn any form of hate crime”.

During motions, Labour will waffle on with what a friend and former Tory councillor in another borough calls self-praise, while playing to an empty gallery. The result is that we are talked out and miss our chance to stand up for residents and the issues they are most concerned about. I find this aspect of local government very childish.

Meetings of the borough council are much-anticipated; the atmosphere beforehand is buzzy, exciting and vibrant as we all arrive in our office, exchange last minute tips and support, and hope for positive outcomes. We must be in our seats before the mayor processes in behind the mace, respectful of the process and procession and its importance locally even if what happens in the chamber is often less important that what we do in our wards. As the granddaughter of a councillor who was mayor twice (in another London borough) I am sorry that the current mayor has chosen not to wear his robes but instead to wear his chains of office over his suit. I have huge respect for the role, not least as it should rise above and stop the sillier aspects of political combat.

Open to all

Some borough council agendas bring crowds into Hounslow House. Often, a handful of people brave it. They are open to all and I encourage you to come along to see how democracy works in Hounslow.

Round and round again

The nine Chiswick councillors have now written a blog each and, with this one, we are on to round two. I hope you’ve enjoyed the variety of styles and, perhaps, learning more about the role of a councillor. If there are aspects of the role you’d like to know more about, do let me know.

Subjects on my desk and at my finger tips this week

Stopping CS9/CW9, the insensitive and damaging cycle scheme TfL wants to impose on Chiswick (the abuse on Twitter is astonishing – misogynistic, bullying, threatening – and a big thank you to residents who have noticed and sympathised and who understand we want a scheme that works for the whole of Chiswick).

Gunnersbury Park and the impact (significantly better) of this year’s Lovebox/Citadel festivals.

The temporary contract with the Romanian Embassy that has led to disruption and anti-social behaviour around Chiswick Town Hall.

Drug dealing and the increased number of laughing gas canisters that litter our verges and pavements and are chucked into our recycling boxes.

ULEZ and the anomalous exclusion of a stretch of the A4.

The continued lack of an internet connection in a council-run block of flats.

Awkward and steep access into a playground.

Street sweeping, filthy streets and edges of pavement overgrown with vegetation.

Complaints about neighbours who don’t manage their waste and recycling.

Not a single pothole this week!


Borough Council: Tuesday, 10th September at 7.30pm in Hounslow House ( papers published a week before the meeting -


Chiswick: Every Saturday in Chiswick Library from 9.30am to 10.30am (rota shared with all Chiswick councillors)

Gunnersbury Park Garden Estate: First Saturday of every month in the Triangle Club, The Ridgeway, from 10am to 11am (rota shared with Turnham Green ward councillors)


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August 16, 2019

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