As meetings go, it was messy. The high point was probably the brief presentations by the kids from the Kent Youth Council – keen on democracy, and happy to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. Excellent stuff. They easily outshone the Thanet Local Board. Until recently, I hadn’t known the TLB existed, and I had never seen Cllr Hayton. Happy days.
We were treated to monlogues from Paul Carter (KCC) on the tightness of the tight times that are coming, from Andrew Pearce (Environment Agency) on how watchful they are, from Charles Buchanan (Infratil) about the glorious future for Manston, and Paul Crick (KCC Highways) about his two projects – linking Ashford and Thanet, and Thanet Parkway Station. They used to call it Manston Parkway… I think calling it “Thanet Parkway” simply reflects the fact that Paul Crick has no idea where it’s going to be built, other than in Thanet somewhere, presumably.
So far, so meeting. Cllr Hayton, who until this point had been quite cordial, invited questions from the floor, and became a man transformed. I got the impression of impatience bordering on petulance as he interrupted questioners in mid-flow, demanding the punchline. This is simply a bad way to chair a public meeting. Most people avoid public speaking, and on the odd occasion when it is thrust upon them, they’ll just do their best. It may not be as crisp as Cllr Hayton is used to in the Council chamber, but that’s something he should make allowances for. A short preamble helps the person being questioned, and the audience, make sense of the question.
One questioner was interrupted so often by Cllr Hayton that he simply stopped trying to ask his question, picked up his papers and marched towards the door while cries of “Shame on you!” and “Let him ask his question!” were directed at the Chair. At the last minute, our departing questioner took a left turn, went up onto the stage, and leant across the table to have a terse but quiet nose-to-nose conversation with Cllr Carter. Particularly gripping given that he’s a trained killer. The questioner, that is, not Cllr Carter.
And he wasn’t the only one who wasn’t impressed with the TLB – a very sensible woman from Ramsgate wrote…
Dear Cllr Carter,
Further to my conversation with you this evening at the end of the Thanet Local Board meeting, I am writing to formally complain about the chairing of the meeting by Cllr Hayton. At a meeting where the public are invited to come and listen and to contribute their views, a Chair who repeatedly and rudely cut off members of the public as they were speaking is, frankly, trampling on every notion of participatory democracy. Given the concern of all parties at local, regional and national levels over the decline in participation in democratic politics and given the high levels of public mistrust of our politicians, it seems incredible that an elected official should behave in such an outrageous fashion.
It is often with some degree of trepidation and nervousness that members of the public stand up to speak at meetings, generally we are not regular or accomplished public speakers and to have to listen to Cllr Hayton repeatedly barking at people was shocking. He appears not to be aware that it is customary at meetings for people to precede their questions with some introductory comments. Indeed, questions would often not make sense without these. It was not the case that comments and questions were lengthy or repetitious as he frequently asserted or implied. Rather, it appeared that he was trying to stifle public comment and debate. His manner, tone and behaviour were provocative and clearly distressing to many members of the audience. And, this is someone who sits on a select committee assessing democracy! Extraordinary.
I would be most pleased to receive your response to this formal complaint.