iFAQ: Language in the chamber

For our iFAQ this week, we decided to ask councillors about the use of language at Medway Council chambers, following discussions about what is appropriate in our national politics. As such, we sent the following question to every Medway councillor:

Given recent debates in Parliament about the use of language in politics, do you feel that language at Medway Council meetings is always appropriate, or would an element of moderation improve our political discourse?

As usual, we told all of them that we would publish their responses unedited. You can find them below in the order they were received.

Cllr Murray

The PM has been deliberately provocative and rightly called out by those offended by his remarks.People often resort to those tactics when their arguments are weak.
I am not concerned about debate at Medway council save for when personal attacks are made such as that made by ex Cllr Mackness on Cllr Price in the last municipal term.
The Tories often use the term “talking Medway down” to deflect criticism and I will always challenge them in a robust way.
Cllr Teresa Murray, Medway Labour Deputy Leader, Rochester East

Cllr Stamp

In short, the language used by a minority of Councillors at Full Council meetings is inappropriate. The tone of the debate can often appear unnecessarily aggressive.
However, the most disappointing aspect of Full Council is not the language used or the tone of the debate, it is the short-sighted decisions which are made by the ruling administration, against the interests of the majority of Medway’s residents.
Cllr Andy Stamp, Labour, Gillingham North

Cllr Howcroft-Scott

Having good manners is important. It is good to be polite and have respect for others. Treat others the way you want to be treated and be an example.The speaker and the deputy speakers wrote rules of behaviour and courtesy in the House of Commons November 2018.
This was intended to help MPs understand the behaviour that is expected of them in the chamber of the house of commons and Westminster Hall.
However lately the Prime minister especially but all MPs need to be reminded of this they are watched by the world and should be role models to society especially our children.
On September 25th I Was personally furious when Boris in the House of Commons said that the best way of honouring the memory of Jo Cox is by bringing this country together to get Brexit done. We need to find a way to exercise and restore respect in our politics. Our current PM in my opinion has the social skills of a hedgehog 🦔. 
In local politics we try to treat others they way we want to be treated ourselves but sometimes it’s very challenging especially in the light of the inadequate OFSTED for children services. Which have been on a downward trajectory since 2011. Cllr Jarrett stated that Medway has come a long way over the years and residents remain at the heart of everything we do, so this news is hugely disappointing,’
‘I am particularly surprised by this outcome as we have invested significant additional resources within the service and carried out extensive preparation in readiness for the inspection, so I was led to believe that we would retain or improve our previous grading.’ Commented Cllr Jarrett.
For me this lacks ambition how can you want to retain requires improvement for our most vulnerable children and families.? Surely this is not good enough and we should be challenging all children to succeed. I would like to see the virtual schools team move back under the remit of education so that impact can be properly measured by educational experts rather than social care who may have little or no expertise in educational outcomes.  I am impressed by our  SEND plan The fact that it’s been written with special educational needs and disabled children  parents and lead officers as well. This manages to present a good strategy as well as a timed operational plan that can easy be reviewed and outcomes measured.
I am concerned but only one person has resigned from the council over this inadequate report. I feel other people should be held to account too.
I worry that Cllr Josie Iles is new to her role and may lack  the expertise to drive this forward however I do understand she is under going training. All our children deserve the very best Medway has to offer a sea of indifference wont do.
Cllr Joanne Howcroft-Scott, Labour, Luton and Wayfield

Cllr Etheridge

In response to your question, it is clear that the decline of language used socially, politically and economically is in decline. As an individual, in any of our High Streets it will not be long before your ears are assaulted with inappropriate language, by all generations of people there.
Do you as an individual complain, or simply walk away, before you too, become a target of someone else’s targeted abuse. So, are politicians and others reflecting what they see and hear in the streets reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely, or is it vise a versa?
Therefore, reasoned debate and discourse becomes ugly and inaccurate because the slovenliness and natural growth of our language makes it easier for us to fall into intimidation, which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.
However, it is not just the language used that is toxic. It is obvious during meetings that the questioner has not read the paperwork in front of them from the questions asked, with the respondent replying that the answer, with an explanation lies within their documents. 
Finally, this is compounded by the behaviour shown by some. Whereby inaccuracy’s are repeated as fact, elongated speech’s totally unrelated to the subject, creating scope creep and interruption or heckling taking place. So, the answer formed in the minds of the general public, is that we are all just as bad as each other.
Hopefully I have tried to answer your question, but as explained above, its not just about moderation of language, but a moderation of the disrespect shown by all of society to each other, for which we, as public leaders should be setting a better example.
Cllr Gary Etheridge, Conservative, Strood Rural

Cllr Pat Cooper, Labour, Gillingham North

Cllr Osborne

Like in most Councils there is robust debate about important matters but due to the reduction in number of meetings and the lack of formal breaks it does become apparent that people are becoming short tempered and angry. I’ve only witnessed one meeting where tempers have flared to an unprofessional level.
A suggestion on improving the discourse is to have formal breaks of 10-15 minutes scheduled twice in evening to give time for members to reflect on proceedings.
Cllr Tristan Osborne, Labour, Luton and Wayfield

No. Moderation is only required for speech if it could cause harm. That should not be misinterpreted as a liberal pretension; harm can be widely conceived.
Cllr Harinder Mahil, Labour, Chatham Central

Cllr Maple

Democracy needs healthy robust debate and discussion, including holding other elected representatives to account for their proposals and opinions, but there will be a line for individuals which moves from robust debate into something less acceptable particularly if for example it is an extremely personal attack or involving someone’s family. 
That line of acceptablity will be different for different people. 
I would say generally Medway Council meetings stay within the boundaries of what most people would say is healthy robust debate with probably one of two examples over the past twelve years where contributions have been excessively personal. 
There is no doubt Boris Johnson has been using extremely emotive language in a time of heightned national tension which we know has been directly quoted back in death threats to other members of Parliament along with language used in some daily newspaper headlines. 
In my view that is irresponsible from someone in such a position as Prime Minister.
Cllr Vince Maple, Medway Labour Leader, Chatham Central

We received no response to this question from Cllr Adeoye (Lab), Cllr Ahmed (Con), Cllr Aldous (Con), Cllr Barrett (Con), Cllr Bhutia (Con), Cllr Bowler (Lab), Cllr Brake (Con), Cllr Browne (Lab), Cllr Buckwell (Con), Cllr Carr (Con), Cllr D Chambers (Con), Cllr R Chambers (Con), Cllr Chitty (Con), Cllr Clarke (Con), Cllr Curry (Lab), Cllr Doe (Con), Cllr Fearn (Con), Cllr Filmer (Con), Cllr Griffin (Con), Cllr Gulvin (Con), Cllr Hackwell (Con), Cllr Hubbard (Lab), Cllr J Iles (Con), Cllr S Iles (Con), Cllr Jarrett (Con), Cllr Johnson (Lab), Cllr Kemp (Con), Cllr Khan (Lab), Cllr Lloyd (Lab), Cllr McDonald (Lab), Cllr Opara (Con), Cllr Paterson (Lab), Cllr Pendergast (Ind), Cllr Potter (Con), Cllr Prenter (Lab), Cllr Price (Lab), Cllr Purdy (Con), Cllr Sands (Ind), Cllr C Stamp (Lab), Cllr Tejan (Con), Cllr Thompson (Con), Cllr Thorne (Con), Cllr Tranter (Con), Cllr E Turpin (Con), Cllr R Turpin (Con), Cllr Wildey (Con), or Cllr Williams (Con).

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