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
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
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
■ 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 (www.plymouth.gov.uk) 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