South Hornchurch is a Residents’ Association (RA)stronghold. In the old days RA councillors lived in the ward they represented. ‘We share the same experiences as you and we aren’t politicians’. No more. Michael Deon Burton became a Conservative two days after the 2018 election. Graham Williamson has never lived in South Hornchurch. Natasha is the last relic of RA politics-not-politics. (I don’t understand it either.)
Obviously her community work isn’t publicly available. She might be a tireless councillor but her paid public role is unimpressive. Between 19th August, 2020 to 20th January, 2021 she had 62% attendance. ‘Attendance’ during the pandemic means walking across the living-room and turning on her council provided laptop.
The council’s principal committee is the Overview and Scrutiny board. There were five meetings in the period and Natasha attended two. The Overview and Scrutiny board is where all contentious and strategic items go for discussion. Members have a great deal of work to do to fully understand crucial long term policies.1 Only senior councillors are on the board and their decisions help shape the future of Havering for years to come. Non-attendance is a disgrace.
The RAs in South Hornchurch are trading on decades of hard work by local councillors who have left a wonderful legacy. This legacy is being trashed.
This was a truncated meeting because chief officers are engulfed with Covid-19 preparations. The Mayor carefully avoided saying the problem was that government announcements always come late, with maximum urgency.
There wasn’t a repetition of ‘the Mayor and the Priest’ fiasco as of 9th September, 2020, which was a bit of a shame.* This time the Priest did his best with a couple of feeble jokes, a nun’s 17th century prayer and a badge of honour. Quite why councillors needed God’s assistance is a curiosity as there weren’t any moral conundrums on the agenda.
Using a tactic Stalin, an atheist, would have been proud of, every vote was ‘Vote Only’. The Conservative minority, with the Harold Wood 3, swept through. Only Damian White’s smirk showed this was how he’d like every council meeting to be conducted.
The meeting ended with Cllr. Joshua Chapman** singing the National Anthem. Unaccompanied. This should have been a coup de theatre but the artistic director fell down on the job. At the very least a Union flag should have been unfurled behind the Mayor’s seat.
Zoom Council meetings are unforgiving. The elderly Mayor, John Mylod, failed utterly from the very beginning.* After ten minutes or so he was still bumbling along, testing the patience of councillors. Several gripped their heads in disbelief, others openly laughed. This was the very public outcome of Damian White’s policy of using jobs to maintain his power, regardless of operational efficiency. It has brought the council into disrepute.
The meeting ended with a long** debate about Havering’s academy schools. Surprisingly, the Conservatives fielded four cabinet members including the Leader,*** deputy Leader and former Leader. The Conservative chair of the Children and Learning committee didn’t speak. This is shocking as her committee will scrutinise Havering academies’ under-achievement. Robert Benham, chair of education, read a script where each word seemed unexpected. Is it possible he didn’t write it? Councillor Ford didn’t develop her good debating points fully. Councillor Darvill opened and closed the debate with considerable authority. There was empty political point scoring by the Conservatives, which fell flat.
The Council meeting was ruined once again by poor chairmanship. This illustrates the negative impact of Damian’s croneyism, which extends to every Overview and Scrutiny committee, none of which are independent of the executive.