It’s not often that a seven-minute edited highlights package from a parish council meeting soars up the YouTube most-viewed rankings.
Or that a clerk overseeing such proceedings becomes a Twitter trending topic and finds herself installed as a tongue-in-cheek favourite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
But the December 10th Handforth Parish Council Planning & Environment Committee meeting was, its minutes assure us, an extraordinary meeting – leaving a shocking trail of chaos, power grabs and insults.
A sleepy parish council meeting in Handforth, Cheshire turned into chaos as furious councillors traded insults and the chairman was blocked from the video call meeting. Pictured: Jackie Weaver, who threw chairman Brian Tolver out of the meeting
Weaver, Cheshire Association of Local Councils, clashes with chairman Brian Tolver who claims he was chucked out of an earlier meeting by her and refuses to accept the meeting’s legitimacy. He is later thrown out again for telling Weaver to ‘stop talking’
It starts badly.
‘F*** off,’ a male voice says, as the fine burghers of the east Cheshire village (‘a fast-growing community connecting Cheshire to Greater Manchester, with a major retail centre and luxury car outlets, and easy access to Manchester Airport’) gather for the 7:30pm Zoom call.
We then meet parish council chairman Brian Tolver and matters don’t improve. His Zoom title, despite being the chairman, is ‘Handforth PC clerk’. There is clearly history here.
He addresses the meeting’s actual clerk, Jackie Weaver, drafted in from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils. ‘Can we be assured that we won’t be thrown out of the meeting like we were last time?’ he says, leaning towards the camera and sucking his teeth for emphasis.
‘As long as we have reasonable behaviour from everyone,’ Mrs Weaver replies.
A reasonable request, perhaps. But Cllr Tolver is an independent councillor in more than just name.
He was thrown out last time, he reminds the room. (‘Quite rightly too,’ a colleague pipes up.) And before the meeting can even begin, he returns to taking Mrs Weaver to task. What is she doing there?
The meeting on December 10 is attended by several other councillors (clockwise from top left: Susan Moore, Barry Burkill who is also thrown out, John Smith who takes over as chairman, and Cynthia Samson)
‘I am here offering support to Handforth Parish Council in the conduct of the meeting this evening,’ she assures him, but Cllr Tolver is having none of it. This Zoom call ain’t big enough for two clerks.
‘It isn’t the role of someone who, however kindly, volunteers to do the clerking of a meeting to act as a Proper Officer if they haven’t so been appointed,’ Cllr Tolver insists. ‘That’s against the law.’
Ms Weaver attempts to fight her corner, but the chair remains sturdy. ‘Stop talking,’ he bellows.
The chair decides business at Handforth Parish Council meetings, the chair insists. ‘God knows what you’re doing in your job’ if you don’t know that. (‘Who is this woman?’ another disembodied voice asks.)
Cllr Tolver continues with another reference to the previous darkness casting a shadow over today’s proceedings.
‘We will start the meeting, and I want to repeat what I said at the beginning of the last meeting, that this meeting has not been called according to the law. The law has been broken.’
‘It has been properly called,’ Mrs Weaver assures him.
‘Will you PLEASE let the chairman speak,’ the chairman demands.
‘Mrs Weaver PLEASE,’ a further man squeaks from ‘Aled’s iPad’ on the Zoom sidelines. The crowd is getting agitated.
Mrs Weaver attempts to regain calm. ‘If you disrupt this meeting, I will have to remove you from it,’ she says,
‘You can’t! It is only the chairman who can remove people from a meeting,’ the chairman, who was removed from the previous meeting, cries. ‘You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver! NO AUTHORITY AT ALL!’
It was a bold shot – one likely to live on in memes, on mugs and on t-shirts – but it was his parting one.
‘She’s just kicked him out,’ says Aled’s iPad, which it seemingly takes two men to operate.
Mrs Weaver attempts to continue: ‘This is a meeting called by two councillors…’
‘Illegally,’ the squeakier of the Aleds interjects.
‘…who can now elect a new chairman,’ Mrs Weaver patiently finishes.
‘No they can’t because the vice chair is here! I take charge!’ Squeaky Aled leans forward, revealing himself as Cllr Aled Brewerton. ‘Read the standing orders,’ he roars at Ms Weaver. ‘READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!’
‘Deary me,’ someone sighs.
Cllr Barry Burkhill appears, squinting at a camera from a room basking in an unreassuring yellow glow.
‘Where’s the chairman?’ he asks, a theme he returns to over the coming minutes, regardless of who is speaking.
Mrs Weaver again attempts to get a new chairman elected – but Cllr Burkhill assures her ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’.
‘Can I ask you to be respectful to Jackie Weaver please,’ a female colleague on the call says, prompting belly laughs from the stalls. Non-squeaky Aled holds his stomach and rocks back and forth in glee. Good one! Be respectful to Jackie Weaver! Jackie Weaver has no authority here!
Cllr Brewerton notices Cllr Burkhill has now been removed too, and he’s not squeaking now – instead hissing, like the possessed young girl in The Exorcist.
‘We’re trying to have a Teams meeting, you fool,’ he says, regrettably off camera so whether his head rotated at the same time remained unclear.
But saintly Jackie is more than a match for such enemies. With a wave of her dismissing finger, both men on Aled’s iPad vanish, joining Cllrs Tolver and Burkhill in the limbo of the waiting area.
Cllr John Smith is elected chairman and the meeting can begin. ‘Welcome to Handforth,’ he says, wearily.
‘It’s nothing if not lively,’ Mrs Weaver responds.
‘Make this a mini series on Netflix,’ one internet user demanded.
The hilarious clips of the meeting were viewed thousands of times on Twitter, with people creating memes of Jackie Weaver removing councillors and jokes about standing orders.
TV presenter Richard Osman tweeted: ‘Am busily writing Jackie Weaver into the next Thursday Murder Club novel.’
Broadcaster Ayesha Hazarika joked: ‘After days of rowing about patriotism & flags, can we agree that Jackie Weaver & that zoom makes us proud to be British.’
Presenter Steph McGovern said: ‘But what happens next???’
It’s a reasonable question. Will there be a sequel?