Very strange goings-on at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting – which overshadowed what seemed to be an amicable end to the row between Labour and the Tories over a scheme to boost the living wage.
A security guard tried to stop one of last year’s council election candidates from filming at Woolwich Town Hall – apparently on mayor Mick Hayes‘s order, and despite new laws aimed at ensuring members of the public can film in town halls.
Stewart Christie, who runs the Royal Greenwich Time website, was trying to film the meeting with his mobile phone when a guard approached him telling him Cllr Hayes had ordered him to stop, or he would call the police.
Christie, whose website is named after Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – one of only two left in the country – is a former Liberal Democrat candidate who ran an aggressive campaign against the ruling Labour group in the Shooters Hill ward, based around Labour’s backing for a new road river crossing at Gallions Reach.
The guard approached Christie yet ignored me videoing the meeting within the mayor’s eyeline. Christie stopped filming, but later resumed using a tablet propped up on the shelf of the public gallery.
Again, the guard approached Christie and told him to stop. This time, the guard was ushered away by Robert Sutton, Greenwich Council’s committee services manager, as can be seen in the video below.
Rules allowing council meetings to be filmed have been in force in England since last summer. Before then, members of the public had been warned for even taking dictaphones into the council chamber, while former council leader Chris Roberts had resisted suggestions that meetings might be recorded or broadcast.
In November 2013, then-mayor Angela Cornforth refused a TV crew permission to film a meeting. It turned out to be journalists for a BBC programme investigating bullying accusations against Roberts.
Christie used the new freedom last month to ridicule the “schoolboy politics” of the Greenwich Council chamber.
Greenwich’s rules for recording meetings simply state that people are welcome to film or take photos, and that members of the public should be aware that footage could be publicly available.
Council staff are unhappy about what happened, while there’s also embarrassment on the Labour benches.
With Greenwich Labour – or more accurately, the council leadership – under fire for “machine politics” over the way it claimed credit for a Conservative motion recommending it adopt a scheme to promote the living wage which began in Labour-run Brent, last night’s incident is a reminder the old bullying culture still hasn’t quite gone away.
There are welcome signs of change in the council – but last night’s row was an example of how the old guard can still scupper progress in Woolwich Town Hall.