In view of the sickening events that had taken place four miles to the east it was not an ideal evening for any council to stage a party, but Bexley (and Greenwich) did exactly that. Yesterday was mayor making day in Bexley (and Greenwich) and on any other day I might have legitimately described Bexley’s ritual sycophantic pantomime in the same terms, for rarely have I heard such a succession of creepily insincere plaudits - and a few tasteless jokes.
The public gallery was full with the friends and relatives of 62 councillors dressed as if they were attending a Royal garden party and an interloper in a track suit and cardigan. The unthinking retiring mayor Alan Downing commenced proceedings by regurgitating his favourite lie, that no one was allowed to take a photograph, not even for their family albums, because of the risk a camera poses to ordinary members of the general public - which last night might not have been more than me and a handful of the usual suspects. An idiot mayor is an idiot mayor to his very last breath.
A black suited and smartly coiffured councillor Seán Newman was first to his feet with a surprise announcement; he nominated fellow Labour councillor Gill MacDonald for mayor. He was seconded by councillor Alan Deadman and we learned from their oratory that Gill had at various times been a member of the Conservative, Social Democratic (SDP) and Labour parties - and not a lot else. There may have been more but as has become the norm, the public address system was a disaster zone and Chris spoke directly at the front bench rather than the mic. All but the clearest of speakers (I’m thinking of councillor John Fuller here) tested the limits of audibility against the inevitable background murmuring of a large audience.
As forecast, Sharon Massey was then proposed for mayor by councillor John Waters with a very personal if occasionally ungallant speech extolling her supposed virtues. We were told the names of Sharon’s two daughters, that her brother Gareth Johnson is MP for Dartford and that the pair was at one time Bexley’s only sibling councillors. Sharon’s hobbies, we were informed, are giving up smoking and gorging on bacon butties.
It fell to councillor Biffa Bailey to second John Waters’ proposal but the only notable aspect of her speech was that it assumed Mrs. Massey to have been already elected which she was not. Given the inevitable result of the vote that followed her assumption did not prove to be inaccurate, but it offered more proof of the thinking prevalent in a one party state.
So on the back of a unanimous Conservative vote, Mrs. Massey nipped out to the Ladies to change into something less comfortable and returned to re-enact a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean with the Keira Knightley figure looking quite dishy flanked as she was by half a dozen evil zombies. Keira lost no time in appointing councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis as her deputy and to complete the all female team, the Reverend Ann Uphill as her chaplain. It was all downhill from then on.
Councillor Alex Sawyer provided some sort of eulogy to the outgoing mayor. The microphone probably lost the best of his jokes for all I clearly picked up was that he likened councillor Alan Downing’s management style to that of Mr. Mackay in the 1970’s sit-com Porridge which may enhance Alex’s reputation with blog readers but help to explain why he is not yet a cabinet member. There was also a reference to retiring mayors declining into their dotage and a state of permanent incontinence. Maybe I have the context wrong, but among Sawyer’s catalogue of jokes was a rather good one, Downing is “a good man and an outstanding mayor”. It raised a snigger from those whose tongues were not stuck firmly in cheeks - or even up them.
Councillor Chris Ball wisely made no attempt to follow that. His address consisted almost entirely of references back to his own time as mayor and advice on how Downing might best handle the deflation of his ego over the coming days and weeks. I enjoyed the image of a large balloon being pricked that he conjured up.
Councillor John Fuller is one of the few voices that needs no electronic assistance so I can be quite sure he implied that Downing is as dim as his mayoral performance has suggested. He came last in the councillor’s charity quiz evening.
Finally, councillor Alan Downing himself rose to his feet to thank all and sundry. With a sheaf of papers in his hand he apologized in advance that reading scripts was not his forté and that he preferred to speak off the cuff. So why didn’t he? His stumbling performance was embarrassing to watch as his tongue tripped over the words and occasionally lost the place. He thanked “Paul” several times and I could only guess that Paul is his chauffeur. He also made a reference to “the dog lady of Crayford” which I learned was a reference to councillor Eileen Pallen who apparently has some sort of affinity with the greyhound track. It was very much an exclusive family affair and non-members were left to feel like intruders.
After the festivities concluded the meeting was due to go into rubber stamping mode. Approving the committee appointments and allowances, signing off the Scrutiny Committee reports etc. all of which is documented in the Agenda and Appendices so not really worth the sacrifice of another hour.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning that councillor Peter Craske was not restored to his £22,615 cabinet position but gets a place on the Top Management Review Panel. Another good reason for Will Tuckley to speak to the CPS on his behalf if the need should ever occur again. Incidentally, the CPS has shed some more light on how Craske came to escape the clutches of the police. Their letter further discredits the police’s excuses to not bring charges.
Not expecting an invitation to the after meeting drinks party and with another appointment in mind I tiptoed away as the borough’s 50th mayor began her term. Reasonably well as far as I could judge in just a couple of minutes. If she can control her zombies as well as she can model a pirate’s costume, council meeting reports may be rather shorter in future. By contrast with the last female incumbent Sharon hasn’t got big boots to fill and I look forward to her opening remarks at the next meeting. The tone for the year is usually set within those first two or three minutes.
Title note: Presumably Paul will be doing a grand job of yelling “VIP coming through” to save the new mayor from trampling the plebs as she goes about her business.