Politics may becoming increasingly divisive and unpredictable as the Brexit debate rages on, but in Peterborough attempts are being made to introduce a “kinder politics”, to quote a certain Jeremy Corbyn.
So it was two months after the decision was taken by the city council to introduce a new constitution and ethics committee in the wake of bad behaviour by some councillors, anticipation filled the air at the Town Hall as the select group of seven met for the first time.
But if the plan was for all committee members to get on famously then it did not quite go to plan.
Unsurprisingly dissent was stirred by Labour and Co-operative member Cllr Ed Murphy, the red rag to the Tory bull who has previously accused the majority party of “screwing poor, hard-working people”.
Signs that this would be no ordinary scrutiny meeting came right at the start of the meeting when, asked if he had any interests to declare, Cllr Murphy said: “I have probably got a complaint pending or something.”
Chairing the meeting was bearded cabinet member Cllr David Seaton who is known to enjoy winding up the opposition parties.
But on this occasion he focused on arguing that councillors who are complained about should not be named until the complaint has concluded to prevent “spurious” allegations being made against them.
This was agreed by the committee despite the protestations of Cllr Murphy, who then broke the new confidentiality rule 20 minutes later when he revealed that he’s currently the subject of a complaint which has yet to have been fully resolved.
“We have agreed to be confidential,” the council’s legal officer reminded him.
Cllr Murphy suggested the decision to make complaints confidential was to “try and diminish some of the flack the administration is getting for misogynistic behaviour.”
Cllr Seaton objected to that, responding: “Cllr Murphy I think that’s entirely inappropriate behaviour.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford helpfully suggested: “You should put in a complaint.”
Joining the debate Cllr Shazia Bashir (Conservative) highlighted “horrible comments” on the Peterborough Politics UK page. She said: “Seeing some of the councillors behaviour on social media is unbelievable. We are role models in our wards - we need something to keep us in line.”
Although most members got on well with each other, the debate was feistier than the average council committee meeting. Once matters had concluded Cllr Seaton noted that he never seemed to have spats with Cllr Murphy outside of meetings. So naturally two minutes later the pair were in each other’s faces, exchanging pleasantries such as “disgrace” and “utter coward”.
The spat quickly calmed down and the two spoke to each other outside calmly, but who is to say a complaint has not been put in? Not that we would be able to report it.