Council on Tuesday was, frankly, not the best performance Kingston has ever seen.
To start with a Conservative motion on anti-social behaviour and crime in Kingston was turned rapidly into a bear garden. Cllr . Richard Hudson (Con), whose motion it was, wanted to change it very slightly by deleting two words from the end of the last sentence. The words were ‘town centre’. This would create an opportunity to make the very valid point – to most of the citizens of Kingston Borough, that is – that what happens in Kingston town centre has an impact elsewhere as Police are often unable to respond to calls in other areas if there is trouble in the town centre.
The change had been agreed with the Mayor beforehand and discussed with Democratic Support. I know this because I took advice as Deputy Leader of Group myself. The Mayor announced that the change was fine by him, until the Liberal Democrats reacted as though someone had lobbed a grenade into their midst. We then had to propose and second a formal amendment, which the mover accepted.
Even so the Lib Dems reacted in speech after speech as though we were having a go at them personally – which was not our intention, as it happens. We were accused of running down Kingston. Touch them on any raw nerve and that accusation comes out very loud! I hadn’t realised until Tuesday evening just how raw a nerve this issue is with them. The debate turned into an unseemly slanging match as the Administration sought to rubbish both the message and the messenger.
As it is, on the pretext of being concerned about the accuracy of the number of police calls to licensed premises in the town centre, the Lib Dems voted against a motion calling on the Administration to work closely with the Police and other agencies to make Kingston a safer place. Bit of an own goal, perhaps – and a foretaste of 18 months of nasty defensiveness to come, I fear.
The Administration is now spending £240k or thereabouts installing a lift system so that people in wheelchairs (hopefully all wheelchairs and mobility scooters!) can access the Guildhall through the front door. Now this is laudable in many ways and enabling wheelchair access through the front door was something I wanted to see even before I became mobility impaired myself. Though I’m not a wheelchair user and I’m wondering if walking stick users like myself will be able to use this as easily as we would have been able to use a ramp, say. My fellow Deputy Leader was quoted in the press some weeks ago as having criticised this move on the grounds that there already is a wheelchair access to the Guildhall at the side near the coronation stone – there is. Also that the spending of so much money at a time of budget stringency – we are busily pruning £18 million from the budget – was questionable to say the least of it. Our Leader, Howard Jones, was asked a question about this by the Leader of the Council (Yes, we have a Question Time where the Administration can ask US questions!). Howard handled it really well, pointing out, among points I’ve made above, that this is not an attack on the disabled but a matter of finance and also that it seemed strange that, after more than seven years in office, this matter should become so urgent to the Administration now. In a fit of histrionics worthy of a fourth form drama class, a Lib Dem lady member screamed something – many things – at Howard and then flounced out of the room. She had quite a way to go to make sure we all noticed she was flouncing. Not long after she crept, rather less dramatically, back in again.
As I say, we’re in for a torrid 18 months to the next election. And this is just the start. Stay tuned…….