“Someone asked me ‘are all parish council meetings that exciting?’. The answer is no”
Just before Christmas 2020, on the 10th December, a rather heated meeting of Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee took place remotely on Zoom video conferencing software.
A few weeks later, in January, an edited highlights package of the meeting started gaining some traction on social media. What is this strange pantomime, of parochial public officials tearing strips off one another over the internet? The video largely concerned a bad-tempered committee chair at loggerheads with a guest mediator who had been brought in to try and restore order to a dysfunctional group. The factions were clear, and the battle lines were drawn.
Council meetings in this part of the UK were notorious for bullying and tensions – if you had reason to be aware of them. On YouTube, the video was racking up thousands and then hundreds of thousands of views, spawning catchphrases, musical theatre tributes, merchandise, parody sketches – suddenly an unassuming meeting from a small town in Cheshire was a global news story. The Washington Post described it as being “like an absurdist British play”.
The undeniable star was the only real grown-up in the room, a professional local government officer and clerk by the name of Jackie Weaver who had been parachuted in to challenge intimidating behaviour. Her calm and assertive manner was recognised and praised – and she became a big star overnight.
The UK government are looking at making live streaming of all parish council meetings mandatory due to the ‘Jackie Weaver phenomenon’ – and Jackie has used her new found fame to lead discussions about young people and politics, the role of local government, sexism, bullying and the messy world of democracy.
We spent some time with Jackie at the start of March 2021, and discussed all of these things and more. When the dust settles on the pandemic and on Handforth – what does the future hold for local politics – and, of course, for Jackie Weaver herself?
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