I’m one of the few. No, not one of the brave Battle of Britain boys. I’m not that old. No, I’m one of the hundred or so citizens who did a bit of daring do of a different kind the other night.
Perhaps some of us did it from behind the sofa. You know. How we used to watch the scary bits in Dr Who. Others among us may have watched behind fingers covering our eyes – just in case.
Me? I manned up. I did it in my office. Full screen pictures. Stereo sound. (I’ve just bought myself a new fancy computer don’t you know.)
I made a deliberate decision to watch the first ever live coverage from the @LutonCouncil chamber.
The reason for this leap into the 21st century was the annual council budget debate. Except that it wasn’t a debate. I’m sorry to report that it was a picture of local politics at its worst. In every sense.
You know when the school puts on its annual drama production? Well this is what it looked like. But because the players were grown-ups, allegedly, it came across like an extremely amateur version of Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Our local political representatives spent most of the session tossing insults around like confetti. Why they thought snarling criticisms would have any impact on the parties involved was beyond this viewer.
The only impact they did have was to show themselves in a poor light. And not even the gloom of the Town Hall’s chamber could hide it.
By all accounts the live online screening was a first for Luton Borough Council. The councillors all knew it. Presumably. They must have realised that for the first time the potential was there for their voters to see them in action. I suspect the public gallery only rarely accommodates as many watching eyes.
And yet none of them made any attempt to accommodate this new audience. They couldn’t have forgotten the cameras were on because the Mayor mentioned the coverage in his opening remarks.
Let me ask you this for starters. How do most people dress when they go to a wedding or indeed a funeral? What do the majority of us do when taking part in a formal occasion?
Your answer? Have to hurry you. Yes of course. You make an effort to smarten up. You want to make an impression that’s appropriate. You want to look the part.
Now the Town Hall chamber is a formal place. The evening’s agenda perhaps the most important of the year. But apart from a few exceptions the men and women we entrust to look after our council taxes, rubbish collections and so on, looked like they’d spent the afternoon digging their allotments.
Perception is everything. Right or wrong. Impressions are made instantly whether we like it or not.
Our councillors I’m afraid showed considerable disrespect to we voters by appearing so scruffy on camera. This was a public performance and they should know better.
It meant of course that the discussion on the crucial budget debate had to be of the highest quality so that we could forget and forgive what we were seeing.
Did it happen? Sadly, no. Cheap political throwaway lines were hurled across the floor of the chamber instead. “You should have done this,” followed by “Typical of your lot that” and so on.
Now I don’t expect Churchillian speeches nor brilliant badinage. Even Sir Winston rehearsed for hours what and how he was going to speak in the House of Commons.
And that’s my point. I’ve spent many years advising and coaching a range of people how to communicate better. How to speak at public and formal occasions. How to deal with the media regarding good and bad news for example.
There are formulas and general rules to follow. Ways and means of keeping the upper hand or limiting any damage. This is what we teach and counsel. And of course we adapt to the ongoing changes in technology.
From what I saw, and I must confess I didn’t watch every minute of the proceedings, very few of the participants had taken a moment to prepare beforehand what they were going to say. Or indeed how they were going to respond. In other words, how they might come across to the viewing public.
I’ll be generous and say it was an oversight rather than discourtesy. But if live coverage continues, as I think it should, then next time we voters should expect if not demand a far more professional show from the people we ask to look after us.