Christine Tongue: Democracy in action

Council meeting in progress

Democracy doesn’t exist unless you can see it happening, in my opinion. You can watch our illustrious MPs misbehaving in Parliament on telly and locally you can go and watch our councillors reach decisions in the public gallery at Thanet council. Or watch them on Youtube – more like listen as the pictures aren’t brilliant.

But going in person is an important right. You need to see what goes on and, if need be, shout from the public gallery when ghastly blunders come up in what councillors are saying.

It’s all more complicated if you’re dependent on wheels but I felt I really wanted to go last week as the council  was debating whether to support a ceasefire in Gaza. I’d emailed my local councillors begging them to support the motion which asked for a stop to the fighting. They hadn’t replied so I wanted to see what they looked like when the motion was being debated.

A few years ago the council decided that disabled people could book a place in the public gallery and bring a carer. The 50 odd seats in the gallery have tortured me for 20 years of council watching – too hard, too cramped and too low to get out of easily. With dodgy legs it would be impossible so I had to go on the scooter.

The department which deals with the public trying to get a look at democracy going on is Democratic Services. The switchboard didn’t know the right department “what do you think I should put you through to?”  Fortunately, I knew.

So, I turned up in Thanet Community Transport ambulance/bus that my scooter can get into, scooted up the ramp into the midst of the pro-Palestine demonstration outside where a kind policeman – who I guess was there to stop a riot but as there was no riot he just had a well behaved disabled pensioner to deal with – scurried me through the crowd, opened the door for me where a nice security guard took over: “Come inside, love, it’s freezing out there.”

I saw the demo I’d meant to attend, from the comfort of the entrance lobby! Great speeches and lots of passing local support – while I had a chance to say hello to councillors I hadn’t seen from before lockdown and congratulate the ones bringing the ceasefire motion.

Going up to the council chamber was a bit hazardous – small lifts and tight corners! And once in the chamber I realised that booking a space meant my name was on a seat but no one had thought through where me and my wheels should go. Really helpful staff, poor planning!

When the debate started another disability issue came to light – you can’t hear what councillors  are saying unless they’re near you! The acoustics are awful.

We cheered and applauded the ceasefire motion and sat in stunned amazement while two councillors criticised what they claimed to be  the bad grammar and basic illiteracy of the motion. So rude – and discriminatory about people who are dyslexic, as the writer of the motion admitted to be.

But, like Cinderella, I have to leave when my transport turns up! I’m looking forward to being able to get the bus again and be free to stay out as long as I want.

I missed the gallery getting so annoyed some people were thrown out. But if you watch the recording things like that are deleted. Which is why it’s important to go!

I caught up with the YouTube recording and managed to hear what had only been murmuring from some councillors when I was in the public gallery. But the motion was passed with a few changes and I’m proud to say that Thanet council has added its voice to the call for the slaughter in Gaza to stop.

So, if you are disabled and want to see democracy in action ring the council on 01843 577000 and ask for Democratic Services.

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. What was Mr. Netanyahu’s reply to those in Thanet shouting and waving their made-in-China flags?

    Just curious.

  2. What a complete waste of council debating time!
    Do you think the either Hamas or the Israeli Government will care one single iota what TDC think of their positions and actions? NO, of course they won’t any more than they are taking much notice of the US government.
    TDC? Who are they for heaven’s sake? – to put it politely. Mind your own – go away.
    Get on discussing local matters, not geo- politics over which you have zero influence.
    Get real.

    • Surely Ms. Tongue would’ve preferred TDC to discuss disability access issues instead? I would.

  3. Every voice calling for a ceasefire helps! Disabled people are suffering benefit cuts while our government subsidises war. Every weapon made could have been severa thousand wheelchairs!

    • Christine,
      My point was that TDC taking a view on the Israeli Hamas war will make no difference what-so-ever, their views will not elicit a glance or thought from those two factions.
      Yes, better to spend money on local needs of course, but do not waste valuable committee time in discussing a war that we have absolutely no influence over.

  4. Thanet District Council is a Local Government Instution.

    Its Members are elected to represent local people on local issues and to determine local policy, local facilities and local governance.

    For Thanet Council to be debating Gazza/Palestine/Israeli issues is a total waste of time, effort any money. They may just as well discuss what the astronauts on the International Space Station should be having for breakfast.

  5. The only time I could possibly excuse our Councillors debating geo politics is if all the outstanding issues and problems in Thanet had been solved.

    We’re a million miles away from that unfortunately. A complete waste of time.

  6. Oh look…the usual comment trolls calling out people who are actually physically doing something positive towards change, whilst they sit at their keyboards and literally waste their time moaning and spreading negativity on a local newspaper page. Get a life.

    TDC is now one of the 20 or so councils that have called and passed a ceasefire motion in the UK, if that wasn’t for the actions of local organisations like Thanet4Palestine organising then these wouldn’t have even been discussed. If enough councils call for a ceasefire it puts pressure on the govt collectively and it also humiliates them if they don’t act.

    Point is likely lost on the keyboard non-warriors sitting in their darkened rooms frothing at the mouth though I expect.

    • I’m busy putting up a flagpole to fly my Israeli flag – which will be there until all the hostages are freed. Beats shouting outside McDonalds, as a work-shy (and wash-shy) mob did in Margate on Saturday.

    • Do you really think the Government will U-turn on its foreign policy because a few local Councils passed a motion demanding they do so ?

      Get real.

      • Thaetian Blind.

        My thoughts exactly.
        Those who think that TDC expressing a view on the war will even be listened to are living in cloud cuckoo land. Yes, get real and concentrate on the many issues affecting Thanet that need attention. Stop wasting our time and money.

    • I for one am greatly fed up with TDC squandering my taxes/charges eg £2500 to live in two bed bungalow per year. Debating world affair#, what a joke. Also, no benefits for us as we saved a small sum for our old age. We have to buy mobility aids required by my wife. Big mistake in being responsible!!!!

  7. Thanks Christine for such an insightful article explaining the inner workings of our local Council. So pleased a ceasefire of sort was supported and hopefully the accessibility issues will be highlighted and addressed.

  8. Credit to Christine for raising both the daily challenges disabled people have to endure in our community as well as the awful plight of innocent people living in Gaza. Whilst the latter is not a local issue surely its of such importance to many to allow those particularly affected to want to voice their views in a peaceful & democratic manner.What is shameful is the way members of both the Labour & Conservative parties ridiculed both the motion and the Green Party councillor in particular. Clearly respect & tolerance – both of which are enshrined in both parties Codes of Conduct- are not being practised by their local members.

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