Farcical end to council meeting after row over seat

Guildhall politicians brought a bizarre new meaning to the phrase 'fighting for their seats' after a row about a councillor's chair stopped a key meeting.

Almost half the councillors walked out of Northampton Borough Council's debating chamber on Thursday night.

Others refused to sit down and some refused to stand up because of an argument which centred on where former Labour MP-turned-independent councillor, Tony Clarke (Ind, Castle) should sit.

After Councillor Clarke refused to give up the chair he has sat in for the past year to former Mayor, Councillor Lee Mason (Lab, Lumbertubs) the evening descended into farce.

None of the Labour councillors were willing to sit in an empty seat next to Councillor Clarke – who they had a high-profile fall-out with last year – so they insisted on standing. Mayor Brian Markham (Lib Dem, Headlands) ordered all 27 councillors in the chamber to stand up to nullify the protest, but finally gave up and abandoned the meeting.

Onlookers in the public gallery compared councillors' behaviour with that seen in a primary school.

The feeling was backed by opposition leader Councillor Tim Hadland (Con, Weston) who ordered his group to leave the meeting as soon as the row began.

He said: "The meeting was a farce. It was pointless to take part until people started behaving like adults."

At the start of the meeting, Councillor Clarke had been asked by the mayor to give up his seat so Councillor Mason could take it. But he refused, pointing out there was a spare seat next to him and argued he had not been consulted about any changes.

Afterwards he said: "It was a farce from start to finish. But this isn't just about seats. They will hear my voice and I will not be the council's poor relation."

After debating seating arrangements for an hour, the meeting was scrapped in order to allow the leaders of the three main parties to talk to Councillor Clarke in private. After a further debate of an hour no resolution was reached.

Leader of the Labour group, Councillor Keith Davies (Lab, Ecton Brook), defended his group's decision, saying: "There are times when we want to talk tactics. It would be inappropriate to have a non-Labour group member among us."

The meeting had been convened to sign off the draft accounts of Northampton Borough Council.

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