Last night, in the company of Liberal Democrat leader Andrew Dakers, fellow ICG Committee members Andy Sibley and Caroline Andrews, and several other Community colleagues, I attended a meeting of the now Labour-dominated Isleworth and Brentford Area Committee (IBAC). As well as having an interest in some the issues discussed I was also curious to see how the new team perform.
I have of course been a member of IBAC at a time when it had a Labour majority and was about as welcome as an outbreak of flatulence in an astronaut's suit. But this was the first time I had attended a meeting as a member of the public.
Initial impressions were varied. The Isleworth councillors were quiet, doubtless they will become more confident and assertive with experience. Matt Harmer chaired with authority, but was at times a trifle brusque - as Basil Fawlty might have put it - with some of the members of the public. Ruth Cadbury, interestingly, spoke considerably less than she was given to doing during the previous administration. Possibly now that she is surrounded by "real" councillors her calling to educate has abated a tad?
The enigma for me is Theo Dennison, one of the three new Labour members for Syon ward. He was consistently, and quite vocally, an advocate for more consultation with and participation from the wider public, as I am informed he had been at the previous meeting. Naturally with what we know about the Labour Party locally this "does not compute" but I am keen to establish whether this welcome approach is sincere, or whether he simply has more confidence than most of his colleagues that public participation can be managed and channeled in the direction that the Party would like it to go. Doubtless we'll be able to form a clearer view as his term of office progresses but I believe this to be a potentially significant development and one that is well worth monitoring.
More in keeping with the old local Labour mentality that we all know and love was Brentford member Mel Collins, who on four separate occasions referred to the people in the public area as his "audience" and praised the Chair for having been "tolerant" of said public by allowing them to speak, when objecting to Councillor Dennison's proposal to move the Open Forum part of the agenda forward at future meetings as a courtesy to those attending. Conservative councillor Barbara Reid was irritatingly keen to be seen supporting the Chair in rebuffing this particularly helpful proposal. If he is sincere Councillor Dennison is clearly going to have his work cut out over the next four years.
After the meeting several of us retired to the wonderful Magpie and Crown in Brentford High Street where a rather too nice scrumpy was one of the star attractions. It was a long walk home. Happy days.