OPPOSITION members accused the ruling Tory councillors of being ‘undemocratic’ after being silenced at full council meeting.

Leaders of the opposing Independents and Liberal Democrats were shut down at a full virtual council meeting on June 23 (Tuesday) where the Conservatives supported three successful closure motions – which ends the debate on an item and goes straight to the vote – on papers brought forward to council and amendments made by opposition members.

A chaotic, heated argument broke out during the debate over councillor Andrew Johnson’s (Con: Hurley and Walthams), leader, proposals to change the council’s constitution – which include limiting debate on a single item at full council to 30 minutes and public questions to cabinet members to be answered in written form with verbal follow-up questions to only be allowed.

The new Tory chief whip, councillor Gurpreet Bhangra (Boyn Hill) proposed these closure motions – which angered the opposition for not having their say in particular items for debate.

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Independent councillors Geoffrey Hill (Oldfield), Jon Davey (Clewer and Dedworth West), and Neil Knowles (Old Windsor) were kicked out or left the meeting - calling it an ‘utter waste of time’ because of this silence.

Mayor Sayonara Luxton (Con: Sunningdale & Cheapside) ejected councillor Hill after he told her to ‘go to hell’ when the debate on his amendment was cut short because of the closure motion vote.

The leader of the opposing Independent party, councillor Lynne Jones (Old Windsor) put forward three amendments – which were defeated – to have opposition members on the employment appeal sub-committee to keep it politically balanced, have the chairman and vice-chairman from overview and scrutiny panels be from different parties, and to add a line in the constitution for call-ins -  ‘the intent to provide guidance and not to restrict’.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jones accused the ruling Tories for attacking democracy by voting for the closure motions and said the council meeting was not ‘transparent and accountable’ to residents.

She said: “Where’s the collegiate working that councillor Johnson promised right at the very beginning? This was not collegiate.

“This was a council meeting that was so political – they basically politicised the constitution.

“As an Independent, the frustration I feel that nearly half of the councillors could not represent their residents at that council meeting. How can that be transparent and accountable?

“In the nine years I have been in council - even through councillor Dudley [former council leader] – I have never seen anything like it.”

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She added: “Debate is the building blocks to our democracy. You take away those building blocks and everything else falls down.

“This council got itself in such a financial mess by not listening – why are they going down that route again? Why are they not learning from their past?”

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, councillor Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green), said: “In over 25 years as a councillor, I have never seen such an abuse of power by the Conservatives. Residents deserve much better.”

In response, the council leader, councillor Andrew Johnson, said his administration is open and transparent and defended the use of closure motions during meeting.

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He said: “We’re certainly not undemocratic. We have certainly as I’ve been leader allowed full open and transparent debate take place.

“I think certainly more so than whence on during the tenure of my predecessor – but I think the fundamental issue was that we had an agenda compromising of 13/14 items and we got to four and half hours into the meeting and we were barely two thirds of the way through the meeting.

“It’s not to say we were looking to close down debate – but I think the mood of the meeting was becoming increasingly clear that members wanted us to get through the order of business that evening and this is a way of accelerating the progress of business.

“If we had not done that, I fear we would’ve been there almost until midnight – which is not a particular effective use of everybody’s time.

“The items of business on the agenda last night [June 23] could’ve easily been concluded within four hours and in fact that we had defer items to future meetings while looking to shorten debate is quite telling really.”

When asked if he would be open to the idea to add more council meetings, he said would only if they were ‘less-politicised’ and more ‘productive’ about discussing items that affect residents.