The Battle of Handforth – a subject for future murals…?

The world of Lockdown has certainly proved to be a weird one over the past year. When you’re confined to your home there are only so many activities with which to amuse yourself. Many of us have binge-watched Netflix box sets, binge-read books, binge-listened to entire CD collections – or just binged, generally… Parents have had to learn home-schooling pretty rapidly, Eurovision, the Olympics and Wimbledon were suspended, and Joe Wicks became an international hero in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

The Pandemic has also turned out to be something of a boom time for internet software, with YouTube, Microsoft Teams and Zoom all gaining in popularity among the house-bound. Teams and Zoom have been especially good for facilitating parties, job interviews and meetings. One English parish council Zoom meeting ended up being so rancorous and farcical, though, that it has now gone viral and become the Talk of Twitter, and its attendees have become unlikely international celebrities.

Handforth is a village in north-east Cheshire, not far from Wilmslow. It is a well-to-do, very-pleased-with-itself area, with many professional footballers choosing to have their mansions built there. Solidly Conservative, it is within the Tatton constituency, and has been represented in Parliament by such upstanding citizens as Neil Hamilton, George Osborne, and now Esther McVey. Politics (at least on this side of the Irish Sea) can, however, seldom get as vicious as local politics or student politics – despite (or possibly because of) there being so little of real importance being at stake – and this week’s Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting seemed to prove the adage.

YouTube video

Council Chairman (and self-proclaimed Clerk) Cllr Brian Tolver appeared to revel in his barely-deserved importance, despite the best efforts of meeting organizer Jackie Weaver to keep order in the meeting:

TOLVER: Can we be assured that we won’t be thrown out of the Meeting, like we were last time?… We’re not in a meeting, so Points of Order apply during the debates, and I want to ask Jackie: Was it you who quoted a Point of Order?

WEAVER: Yes, it was, indeed.

TOLVER: Are you here as the proper officer?

WEAVER: I am here offering support to Handforth Parish Council, in the conduct of the meeting this evening.

TOLVER: Is that as Clerk, or Proper Officer?

WEAVER: There’s no difference between Clerk and Proper Officer.

TOLVER: Of course there is. You must know the basic law, I would have thought…

WEAVER: Are we going to start this meeting?

TOLVER: It isn’t a role of somebody who, however kindly, volunteers to do the clerking for a meeting, to act as a Proper Officer, if they haven’t so been appointed. That’s against the law.

WEAVER: It has been called…

TOLVER: And let me also quote to you the Standing Orders of the…

WEAVER: Unless we are prepared…

TOLVER: WILL YOU STOP TALKING?!!

WEAVER: Unless we are prepared…

TOLVER: Will you please listen?? Will you stop being – whatever it is you’re trying to be – and just clerk the meeting, if that’s what you want to do?

The farce continued, with Jackie Weaver suggesting (not unreasonably) that they elect a new chairman, and another councillor called Julie answering her mobile to say that she was in a meeting, and the sound of a toilet flushing in another councillor’s house. Tolver continued being – whatever it was that he was trying to be – and Jackie threatened to remove him from Zoom if he kept on being disruptive, though Tolver and two other councillors insisted that she couldn’t, as only the chairman had the power to remove people from the meeting. Sure enough, she kicked him out, and attempted to continue:

WEAVER: This is a meeting called by two councillors –

CLLR ALED BREWERTON: Illegally!

WEAVER: – and we may now elect a chairman.

BREWERTON: No, they can’t, because the Vice-Chair is here. I take charge! Read the Standing Orders. READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!!!

And so the meeting seemed crazily to continue – though Jackie wryly managed to rise above the pettiness with the following observation:

The Chairman simply declared himself Clerk and notified everybody of the case, and the remaining members, quite correctly, have refused to recognise that position – but, as Cllr Smith says, I’m afraid there’s no way of stopping him calling himself Clerk. Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on!

It all sounds ridiculous, to be sure, but this is genuinely the kind of thing that gets real people in England het-up. Over the past few years politics in Britain has been characterised with instances of corruption, duplicity, and incompetence a-plenty, with barely a peep about them among most people in Middle England. If, heaven forfend, obscure rules about running back-of-beyond village halls (whether on Zoom or not) are not followed to the letter – well, watch out! Remember, this is a country where people deal with anger about injustice done to them not by media-friendly acts of civil disobedience, but by writing a letter to the local rag. As per the words of the humorist Alan Coren, it is a land of dottiness, and in years to come some enterprising artist in Handforth may feel the need to mark their village’s unexpected rise to global fame by designing a gable-end mural about the Battle of Handforth.

Meanwhile, on Twitter #HandforthParishCouncil is among today’s biggest trending hashtags, with plenty of public figures freely commenting about the how the trivial has gone viral. My favourite so far is the Tweet from comedian Rachel Parris (who has temporarily renamed herself “Handforth PC Clerk”):

Can’t wait for ITV to make No Authority: The Jackie Weaver story in two years’ time, starring Alison Steadman as Jackie and Roger Allam as Chairman/Clerk. #JACKIEWEAVER

And who knows how the Battle of Handforth will ultimately pan out – but don’t be too surprised if in the coming months Jackie Weaver makes a comeback multi-stadium tour, and a Mississippi-born pop icon wonders out loud how she has become the new Clerk of an obscure village hall in north-west England…

Photo By Mike in Macc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28702211


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