Sometimes meetings go wrong and people are rude. But the role of democracy in civil society should be treated seriously
Parish councils in England collected £596m in local taxes in 2020-21. For around 20 million people, and 100,000 councillors, they are a part of our democratic fabric and civil society (arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales vary). As well as small villages with just a few hundred residents, parish councils (the name is confusing) include town, community and city councils, for example in Salisbury. Yet their workings remain obscure to many people.
Whether the spectacle of a meeting of Handforth parish council held via a Zoom conference call in December, which became a viral sensation at the end of last week, will do anything to alter perceptions remains to be seen. Any lasting impact will surely depend on whether the video’s millions of viewers are more impressed by Jackie Weaver, the official praised for her calmness in the face of chaos, or the display of personal animosity coupled with arcane procedure that to some people sums up everything that is wrong with politics. Particularly at the neighbourhood level, where the stakes are understood to be lower, such passions are often treated as ridiculous.