‘Like a sitcom’: Handforth laughs at parish council’s sudden fame – but dispute runs on

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It is the viral video that proves, in an age of creeping global authoritarianism, grassroots British democracy is alive, well and absolutely insistent the standing orders be read and understood.

Millions of people have watched footage of Handforth Parish Council’s planning and environment committee meeting as it descended into chaos.

The clip – which shows the no-nonsense chief officer, Jackie Weaver, dispatching explosively aggressive male councillors from the Zoom call – has been debated, discussed, mocked and memed to such an extent there are rumours Britney Spears is now asking to be called Jackie Weaver.

(Come on! Keep up, watch the video!)

But today in Handforth itself – a small Cheshire town collectively blinking at both its own new found fame and the news crew wandering the precinct – people here were, well, actually not that surprised by what unfolded.

“This is what parish councils are like everywhere, isn’t it?” muses Anne Grundy, 72, outside Costa Coffee. “It’s just men with a bit of power – and I mean really a little bit – letting it go to their head. ”

Her husband, Allan, 76, considers this for a moment. “I always thought I’d quite like to do it,” he says after a pause.

Not quite everyone here as seen the video, it’s worth saying. “I saw Handforth was on the BBC,” says one man outside Theo’s Fish and Chips. “But then I saw it was about the council so I didn’t read it.”

For him and others like him, then, a recap.

In the footage, Ms Weaver – an external monitoring officer called in amid pre-existing complaints about councillor conduct – can be seen having to deal with a faction of three members apparently trying to prevent her running the meeting, on 10 December.

“You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver,” furious chair Brian Tolver, tells her. “No authority at all.”

It turns out she does. She summarily boots him off the call. When another councillor, vice-chair Aled Brewerton, erupts at the affront – screaming that the officer should read the standing orders – she soon sends him packing too. A third, Barry Birkhill, is also dispatched.

“It’s nothing if not lively,” says Ms Weaver cheerily before she and the remaining three councillors crack on with business.

So popular did the 30-second clip become after it was posted to Twitter on Thursday, that a full 18 minute version soon started doing the rounds too.

“Who needs Netflix?” asked Olympian Sir Chris Hoy on Twitter. “Feel like I should have attempted a Jackie Weaver joke by now,” Gary Lineker chimed in. “But don’t think I have the authority.”

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‘It’s just men with a bit of power’: Anne Grundy with her husband Allan

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‘It’s just men with a bit of power’: Anne Grundy with her husband Allan

(The Independent)

And in Handforth itself, here comes none other than one of our protagonist’s sons.

Daniel Samson’s mother Cynthia is among those councillors who remain smiling and serene as the madness kicks off.

“This isn’t new,” he says. “My mum used to tell me how ridiculous some of these meetings were and I’d be going to her, ‘Na, you’re exaggerating, they’re not that bad’. Then I saw the video this morning and I had to say to her, ‘Fair play, maybe you weren’t exaggerating’.”

Herein, may lie the fasciation: the sheer level of puce-like anger generated by a level of government that, to all intents and purposes, deals with hanging baskets and Christmas lights. What does everyone Handforth think of it?

“I think the same thing they’ve thought for years,” the 46-year-old replies. “That there are people on that council who are a thorn in the side and are obstructive to getting things done, and people can watch that video and make up their own mind who that is.”

For now, his mother, he says, will not be speaking about the video – despite being inundated with media calls – because of the ongoing inquiry into those aforementioned conduct complaints.

“She’s happy enough [with how she comes across], though,” he says. “You can see she’s there because she loves this place and wants to put something back into the community.”

Someone else who isn’t talking, as it turns out, is Councillor Brewerton, the one who lost his temper.

When The Independent phoned him, a man calling himself a lawyer – but declining to give his name – picks up.

“I suggest you keep very quiet on this,” he says, apparently not aware there are literally already mugs and T-shirts on sale referencing the whole affair. “You are talking to a lawyer. There are three lawyers in the [Brewerton] family … You are now at the top of our list.”

A list of what isn’t made clear.

His council ally, Brian Toverton, meanwhile, released a statement effectively saying he was in the right and that he has “no regrets” about the meeting.

Neither, it seems, however, does Ms Weaver.

Because she herself is not a councillor, she appears more willing to speak. “I’ve had nothing but really, lovely positive support from people, she tells the BBC during a series of TV and radio appearances: “There is an element of bullying and bad behaviour in local councils and a lot of us are working very hard – and that includes central government – to try and do something about that because we’re passionate about the fact that local government is the mechanism by which people can really engage with their community.”

This, indeed, may be the serious point.

In Handforth – home to some 6,000 people – the common view appears to be that, yes, haha, this was funny, but also, hang on, these people falling out about standing orders do have a significant say in the ongoing running of the area.

“My wife, my son and I – we were all rolling about on the floor laughing at the ridiculousness of it,” says Phil Davies, a retired gas engineer. “You could make a sitcom out of. But it’s a disgrace, to be truthful. You give these people a bit of authority and they act like that? They’re there to help us, not to squabble among themselves?”

It is, as it turns out, a similar same point made by the 16-year-old student who first posted the video.

Janine Mason from Stoke tweeted the footage because, as a Young Labour member, she thought it would get a few laughs and likes from fellow politicos. She never expected it to see it getting more than a million views. “I had to delete the Twitter app,” she says. “My phone was constantly going off.”

Over the last 24 hours, though, she’s been thinking about it more.

“Obviously, I love Jackie Weaver,” she says. “She’s now my hero. But it would also be nice if maybe this gets more people out voting in the local elections – because it matters. If you don’t like the behaviour in that meeting, you should go out and vote – I mean wherever you live – for someone who isn’t going to be like that. If that was a result of this, I’d be pretty proud of that.”

The Independent contacted all councillors present at the meeting. Just one responded. Susan Moore said she could not speak to the media but had been “delighted” to see herself compared to Dame Judi Dench. “If there’s a film made,” she joked, “she can certainly play me.”

The independent

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