He didn’t even pretend to try to defend the indefensible. Maybe he forgot to. Maybe he can’t. Maybe he is just beyond caring. Who knows? But those of us forced to watch it (95 councillors and a grand total of one member of the actual public) were not edified by Councillor Pat Karney’s display, nor were they under real (I’ll come back to that) illusions about power in this city, about whether the leadership give a damn about real action on climate change.
Forgetting to pretend #1 – of Karney, Leech and Nunney
At one point in today’s Annual Council, the Council’s sole Liberal Democrat, John Leech, got to make a speech (starts at 19mins 45 seconds). In response to the report of who was going to get onto which committee, he pointed out that the new Councillor Robert Nunney (Green Party, Woodhouse Park) had not been given his first pick of Scrutiny Committee (there is a long-standing convention that this happens). Leech suggested – entirely plausibly – that this is a sign of a Council that is actively seeking NOT to be criticised for its appalling under-achievement on climate change. Leech didn’t mention, but could have, that the City has burned through a quarter of its carbon budget for the 21st century in the last two years alone. See bottom of this post for a comment that Robert Nunney prepared yesterday about not being appointed to Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee. Nunney did not, by the way, know that Leech was going to raise the issue today).
In response, Labour’s Pat Karney did not even attempt to address the substance of what Leech said, nor even acknowledge it. He did not offer any justification for Nunney getting none of his top three picks. Instead he chose to dredge up and incoherently recount some ancient history about Leech and the Christie Hospital. While this garbled anecdote “worked” to distract, and perhaps remind some Labour councillors of past battles, it did nothing for Manchester, it did nothing for democracy. It was another nauseating display of brazen contempt for democratic norms. Another day in Manchester.
Forgetting to pretend #2 – of the Lord Mayor and the Leader of the Council
The Lord Mayor asked for nominations for Leader of the Council. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Pat Karney nominated Richard Leese. There were a few desultory yeses when the question of who would second the nomination. You could hear a pin drop and an angel weeping when the Lord Mayor asked if there were any other nominations.
Then the Lord Mayor asked for those in favour of Leese. There was a ragged broadside of yeses.
And… that was it.
He forgot to ask how many were opposed. There would have been some. We know this from the vote last night in Labour Group.
But the Lord Mayor forgot to ask. (clock it at 14 mins 50 seconds here.)
They’re forgetting to pretend to go through the rituals. I am not sure if this actually invalidates the election and they have to do the whole schemozzle again. I will ask the City Solicitor, just for the lulz. But the look, the look is not good…
Forgetting to pretend #3 – not all councillors are Labour and there is a difference between the Labour Party and the Council
Check out Pat Karney’s speech, which was a Labour Party announcement rather than a welcome to new councillors.
The work of pretending
After the meeting I was stood outside the Convention Centre. I raised the fact that Robert Nunney had not got any of his top three picks for Scrutiny Committees with various Labour councillors. The (non)responses fell into the following categories
Real versus fake illusions, aka “It’s all too complicated”
I got this from someone who is clearly used to being able to fly under the radar and when confronted with clear evidence that senior members of their tribe are behaving unforgivably, play the “oh, what would little old me know” card. The obvious response – which I didn’t give, because life is short and why waste my breathe is – if you find such a clear and easy-to-understand thing as this too complicated, then why on earth are you fit to deal with genuinely complex issues as a councillor? Should you not do the honourable thing and resign?
Or is it that you’re perfectly capable of understanding, but the cost of understanding would be too high, so you don’t?
“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment”
This one came from someone with fear in their eyes. This one is by those people who haven’t yet fully lobotomised themselves in the service of Loyalty to the Party, who still can tell when bad things are happening, but also know they don’t (no longer have or never had) the spine to speak up or out about it. But still want to believe they would/will. At some point. Just not today, you understand.
“Show me where it is written down”
This is just legalistic nonsense. Conventions are not written down. The British constitution is famously, not written down. Everyone knows there are conventions, norms etc. It’s saying “well, if it isn’t actually actively excluded then we can do it and it’s fine.” It’s the cynical move of someone who knows that if they had to admit what other councillors admit – and that they themselves would normally admit – then they’d be on the spot.
I’m the real victim here (“everything is always about me”)
Which means “If someone else got something, it would mean I didn’t, and I am the hero/centre of the universe/most important person ever.” It was at this point I just gave up.
What it all means and what is to be done.
What it all means is that black is white, white black and nothing is true and everything is possible and everything is allowed. It means that the Labour Group is run by a small number of people who are willing and able to ride roughshed over democratic norms. It means that they remain committed to a failed policy of spin and perception management when it comes to climate change, that they are not interested in actual scrutiny by anyone they cannot maintain some level of control over.
While some (and the number is growing) Labour councillors feel mild or extreme unease or even displeasure, those in charge know that they are safe for a little while yet.
What is to be done? We who understand what democratic norms and conventions are, and what they do for all of us, have to try to defend them, to speak out when they are traduced. I know that sounds pompous, but there you have it.
We who understand just how perilous our species’ situation is need to do the hard work of watching, explaining, proposing, supporting each other, challenging.
Fwiw, I think we are completely screwed. I think we will go technofix-y fascist quite soon and that will “fail” and then it really all will fall apart. But I choose to use the heritage of the Enlightenment to keep doing pompous-sounding things. So sue me. Or join me/us.
That statement by Robert Nunney – Green Party councillor – from last night.
To my surprise I was elected today to a committee that wasn’t any of my three preferences that council asked me to choose. However, future generations need a green voice and I will join Children and Young People Committee with enthusiasm. The opportunities this position presents will hopefully allow me to champion social and environmental justice issues. We need to improve air quality around schools, help families choose active travel as well as prepare young people for green jobs of the future. I would like to see more provision in parks for children with accessibility challenges, more after school youth groups especially engaging in local environmental projects.