A town council meeting which descended into chaos – with councillors trading insults and ultimately getting booted off the Zoom call has become an internet sensation and a metaphor for the UK’s woes under lockdown.
A video of the Handforth council meeting in Cheshire showed it starting badly when one unseen councillor apparently muttered swear words under his breath as the clerk tried to bring the session to order.
Things did not improve. The meeting quickly degenerated into rancour with councillors in the village near Wilmslow trading insults and ultimately being booted off the Zoom call by the clerk.
Footage of the extraordinary exchanges has been shared thousands of times on Twitter. The name of the heroically stoic clerk, Jackie Weaver, who was apparently parachuted in to run the meeting amid accusations of poor behaviour by councillors, became a Twitter trend on Thursday evening and spawned several memes.
During the meeting, which took place on 10 December, chair Brian Tolver was removedafter refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the meeting.
In the recording, he told Weaver, from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, to “stop talking”, adding: “You have no authority here”. In response, Weaver removed Tolver from the Zoom call and placed him in a virtual waiting room.
Following Tolver’s eviction, vice-chair Aled Brewerton, joined by another man, proceeded to shout at Weaver to “read the standing orders”.
When fellow councillor Susan Moore called for civility, the meeting erupted into semi-hysterical laughter and a two further councillors, Brewerton and Barry Burkill, were removed.
The absurd scenes continued with confusion over Tolver’s Zoom username, in which he had labelled himself the “Handforth PC clerk”.
Weaver said: “The chairman simply declared himself ‘clerk’ and notified everybody of the case.
“There is no way of stopping him from calling himself clerk. Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on.”
Those remaining voted to not allow the three men back into the meeting, with councillor Cynthia Samson likening one to a “laughing hyena”.
The clips of the meeting were a hit with Twitter users, with more than 5,000 retweets and 32,000 likes. TV presenter Richard Osman tweeted: “Am busily writing Jackie Weaver into the next Thursday Murder Club novel.”
Normally sedate and well-mannered bodies, parish councils are the lowest tier of local government in England. They have few powers but can play an important role in providing representation and consultation with district and county councils in matters such as planning, environment and recreation.
The extraordinary outbursts followed a series of complaints about the conduct of some councillors in the village and allegations of unlawful decisions which have resulted in expenditure of public funds, according to a notice posted on the council’s website by David Brown, director of governance and compliance at Cheshire district council.
“As monitoring officer in Cheshire East I have received a multiplicity of complaints and referrals,’” it says. “These range from multiple complaints about councillors behaviour; to fundamental issues of governance and member/officer engagement. The most recent referrals relate to suggestions that some members of Handforth parish council have purported to take decisions that are plainly unlawful, and these decisions have resulted in expenditure of public funds.”
At the end of the meeting, the councillors debated whether a recording of their discussions should be released. One councillor presciently replied: “I think if this goes viral … it’s going to start a war of words”.
With Press Association