Madam Machete

AS A spectacle, it’s more “I’m a

Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here” than

“East Enders”. Certainly (if you’re old

enough to remember) it’s a very far cry

from the glamour of “Dallas”.

Roughly every six weeks, 57 city

councillors are dropped

unceremoniously into Plymouth’s council

chamber and set a series of amusing

and not always appetising challenges

to perform.

The result is always entertaining, and

often dramatic – but think reality TV

rather than soap opera.

From the sweat we see on some

brows, the temperature in that bear pit

must be very high. Driven by a desire to

win our votes, the contestants expose

sides of their characters that some,

perhaps, would prefer to keep hidden.


We “Oooh” as Tory council leader

Vivien Pengelly is strapped to the

Wheel of Misfortune.


We “Aaah” as Tudor “Jungle” Evans

tries to conquer his fear of capitalists.


But six weeks ago we saw a new and

altogether more sinister game: The


Every time a Labour member looked

like he or she was about to get going,

the ruling Conservatives used their

majority to cut them off in full flow.

This is how it works:

Cllr Nicky “Three Degrees”

Wilderness (Lab): “There are at least

87 good reasons why we shouldn’t do it

your way, and I’m about to tell you all of


Cllr Peter Brook-no-Argument (Con,

leaping to his feet): “I move that we go

to a vote on this motion!”

All Tories: “Seconded!”

Lord Mayor: “Well, it seems that’s

that then. What’s next on the agenda?”


MADAM MACHETE, as perhaps we

should call the council leader now, used

her majority to good effect whenever

things got sticky.

She defended herself by saying:

“While members of the Labour Party

include rude and offensive remarks

about my members during debate, then

my members are not going to sit and

listen to the insults. The move to take

the vote will take place on future

occasions to stop the more derogatory

and infamous remarks being made.

“Let us raise the level of debate to

encourage more members of the public

to attend, to make council meetings

more interesting and fit for purpose.”


Mrs P is quite right. The Labour

side’s insults scuttle around the council

chamber like cockroaches escaping

from a Bushtucker Trial.

But that’s life in the real jungle. Only

Z-listers get to shout: “I’m a celebrity …

get me out of here.”

Plymouth people deserve to hear the

issues being debated in full, and using

the guillotine too readily prevents that.

If the Tories feel wounded by the slurs,

then it’s up to them to retaliate with an

appropriate put-down.

As a piece of theatre, the council

chamber is great fun, and even

cheaper than the movies: free, in fact.

The next meeting is on monday at

2.30pm. The public gallery is open, as

its name suggests, to the public. Go to

the front entrance of the Council

House, which is next to the Civic

Centre in Armada Way and ask one of

the very friendly concierges.

You be Ant, and I’ll be Dec.


THE public gallery is usually

practically empty for council debates.

My guess is that this month’s meeting

will be an exception, when councillors

debate the area action plan for Central


No one is promising that you’ll get to

watch a celebrity eating a kangaroo’s

anus (Matt Willis, Series 6, do try to

keep up). But it will be lively – at least,

it will be if the guillotine isn’t trundled



THE main complaint about the area

action plan seems to be that it will allow

houses to be built on the park –

particularly the single row planned for

the southeast corner of the park.

If I lived there (I know, I know, that’s

easy to say when I don’t) I’d welcome

them. Here’s why:

■ They will cap off the very ugly

end-of-terrace views at Holdsworth and

Wake streets without preventing

residents there getting into the park.

■ Some of the land they’ll be built on is

just a rough track, and not beautiful

open parkland.

■ Best of all, because they will face out

into the park they will stop any future

council ever trying to build more houses


The details are on the council’s

website ( in case

you want to see for yourself.


VOTERS in Yealmpton have been

given a date for their ballot on the

question: Do you want a referendum on

the EU Reform Treaty?

Last month they held a ballot on

whether to ask South Hams District

Council for a ballot (that sounds a bit

“Brussels” to me).

South Hams agreed and has set the

date: December 13. Voting will be at

Yealmpton Community and Resource

Centre, from 4-9pm.

Yealmpton is joining many other

parishes exploiting an old law to put

pressure on the Government to keep its

promise and hold a referendum.

The proposer is a familiar name:

Brian Gerrish, editor of The UK Column

(ex-Plymouth and Devonport Column),

who said: “It’s all about honesty, and

letting the people have a say.”

On the matter of the referendum he

gets my vote – though I don’t share his

dislike of Europe.

This article first appeared in The Herald in Plymouth in December 2007



One thought on “Madam Machete

  1. Hugely enjoyable – makes me want to attend my local coucil meetings more often (or at least, it would, if only they were half as amusing as these and conducted in English). Vive la démocratie locale!

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