Almost two years ago, I presented a petition at a full council meeting in Hull. I was given the opportunity to speak for five minutes and then councillors had the opportunity to question me. Instead of questioning me on my petition asking for free on-street parking on Sundays in the city centre, I was greeted by a barrage of abuse by some councillors trying to score political points. It was a shameful display and one councillor was forced to apologise in writing after I lodged a complaint.
Fast forward to this morning, two petitions were received to save a swimming pool at Ennerdale Leisure Centre in the city. One lady who presented a petition and spoke in favour of it mentioned that she was being supported by the opposition Liberal Democrats. For those councillors who are unable to differentiate between a member of the public and a colleague, it was open season. An ordinary member of the public concerned that her local swimming pool is about to be closed was jeered and then questioned on the tax and spending policies of the coalition government.
After the questioning was complete, the meeting then descended into political mud-slinging with those in the public gallery angry that councillors, instead of debating the issue, felt political points scoring was more important. The public frustration spilled over with people shouting out from the gallery and the Lord Mayor threatening to remove them.
Whatever the rights and wrongs are of closing the swimming pool, members of the public should be treated with courtesy and they also expect councillors to work for the best interests of residents, rather than settling old scores. Not all councillors engaged in this disgraceful behaviour, but as one councillor told me privately, "It was not our chamber's shining hour."
It is hardly surprising so many of the electorate don’t bother to vote or engage in the political process in Hull. At the most recent elections in 2012, the turnout in the Newington Ward was 17.76 per cent, and in the Orchard Park and Greenwood Ward it was 17.83 per cent. The turnout in other wards was poor too. The highest turnout in all the wards in the city was in the Beverley Ward and that was only 37.22 per cent.
If councillors in Hull are serious about more public engagement, they have to look at their own behaviour. The events of this morning will be reported in the local media and will further bolster the view that councillors are more interested in themselves than serving those who elect them.