BASILDON council’s latest full council meeting decended into a farce – of puppet show proportions.
One long-standing Basildon councillor simply described it as “the worst meeting I have ever attended”.
Yet the meeting started well enough, with mayor Mo Larkin handing out trophies to teenage footballers, who represented the borough during a tournament in the twin town of Heiligenhaus, in Germany.
But within minutes, a slanging match erupted which led to proceedings being adjourned for almost 40 minutes, while chief executive Bala Mahendran, alongside council leader Phil Turner, tried to restore order.
Trouble sparked soon after Kim Gandy, a personal friend of Mrs Larkin, asked during public question time why Labour councillor Gavin Callaghan had been put on the council standards committee when he has previously faced more than seven complaints about his behaviour.
She was told by Tory councillor Stuart Allen it was down to the Labour group to choose which members they put forward.
In a follow-up question, she asked if he was suitable for the post because, she said, he regularly upsets people with what she called “lies and libellous accusations on Twitter”.
This led to a flurry of “out of order”
calls from the Labour bench with four members storming out of the meeting, including councillor Adele Brown, who could not hide her disapproval of colleagues who remained in their seats.
Following a challenge from Labour councillors who said personal attacks were not allowed during public question time, Mrs Larkin decided to strike out Mrs Gandy’s question.
Order was briefly restored until a subsequent debate on whether Basildon Council should try to become a unitary authority.
However, the discussion was interrupted again when a clearly incensed Mrs Larkin snapped angrily at Mr Callaghan: “Councillor Callaghan, if you have something to say, put your hand up instead of gesticulating. If you have something to say, stand up and say it. Don’t tweet, after, that I don’t let you speak.”
The chastisement led to another walkout by some of the Labour group, led again by Mrs Brown, who barked back at Mrs Larkin: “Shut up and listen.
He didn’t do anything! Do your job properly!”
Elsewhere arguments broke out among Ukip and Labour councillors over who should be able to speak on the debate.
Mrs Larkin ordered a ten-minute adjournment before Mr Mahendran, Mr Turner, Mrs Larkin, Labour leader Byron Taylor and a number of other senior council staff left the council chamber. That ten minutes turned into nearly 40 as tempers finally cooled.
During the unexpected break, one veteran councillor, who would not be named, said: “This is like a pantomime or Punch and Judy show.
“It is the politics of the playground.
Some of us want to get on with proper debates, not slanging matches, and you can’t have councillors running out every five minutes because they don’t like something that is said.”
When Mrs Larkin and others returned, an air of decorum was restored.
In an apparently much calmer demeanour, she said: “The make-up of the council was altered dramatically in May when Ukip won 11 seats, losing the Tory administration its overall majority.”
After the meeting Pat Rackley, an independent Labour councillor, said: “That is the worst council meeting I have ever attended.
“It just keeps getting worse, but we can’t go on like this. Although there is no overall majority, we need to try to work together.”