The British Parliament, along with governments around the world, is running meetings by video conference, as elected representatives continue to observe social distancing rules during the pandemic. And so, too, are tiny parish councils, the lowest tier of local government in England.
But England is in the middle of its third national lockdown and, it appears, the strain is beginning to show. At least it was at Handforth Parish Council’s recent planning and environment committee meeting.
At times, it felt like an absurdist British play.
Things got off to a rocky start, as one member, unseen, muttered an expletive. Perhaps he thought he was on mute.
During the meeting, Jackie Weaver, who is not a member of the council but was brought in to help manage the proceedings, attempted to maintain calm. Her name was trending on social media on Friday, as she was hailed for her fortitude and stoicism — two revered British traits.
At one point in the meeting, the chairman of the council said: “You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver, no authority at all.”
Weaver kicked him out, placing him in a virtual waiting room.
The council vice chairman responded that the meeting was called “illegally” and said that others need to “read the standing orders.” He shouted, “Read them and understand them!” He then got booted to the virtual waiting room, too.
At another point, a councilor — one of at least nine people who spoke at the meeting — said her colleague was “laughing like a hyena.”
Some said the spectacle was all very, very English.
“Forget Buckingham Palace, the Lake District, or Magna Carta. If you want to truly understand England you need to delve into the world of local Parish Councils,” wrote one Twitter user.
Chris Hoy, a British Olympic Gold Medalist, tweeted: “Who needs Netflix?”
George Osborne, a former finance minister who used to be a member of Parliament from that constituency, tweeted: “Local democracy in action — don’t remember Handforth parish council being quite so lively when I was the MP there.”
Weaver noted during the meeting that the chairman of the council had changed his display name in Zoom to read “clerk.”
“There is no way of stopping him from calling himself clerk. Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on,” Weaver said.
Weaver, who was on BBC’s “Woman’s Hour” program on Friday, said that 99.99 percent of parish council meetings were “just not like that.” She acknowledged that there was “amusement” in the meeting but also said it highlighted an “an element of bullying and bad behavior in local councils.”
Asked for advice on how to cope with Zoom meetings, Weaver said: “First all, never wear your pajamas.”