Row over 'planted questions' at public forum
PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 January 2012
»Was a Conservative "plant" at work during last week's Ask the Cabinet public forum meeting?
These are the claims by suspicious residents who watched an exchange between one attendee and the Tory panel at the town hall session.
Questioner Marcus Llewellyn-Rothschild introduced himself to Conservative council leader Cllr Michael White, Cllr Geoff Starns and Cllr Robert Benham, before asking about the borough’s preparations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this summer.
He went on to praise the council’s magazine, Living, which has gone quarterly under new government guidance, and to extol the virtues of the council’s recycling plant in Frog Island, Rainham.
But Marcus, from Harold Hill, failed to mention that he is the current chairman of Upminster and Hornchurch Conservative Association, and neither Cllr White nor his cabinet colleagues gave any signs of knowing the man.
Marcus told Cllr White: “I feel sorry for the demise of Living magazine. It helped inform a lot of us about what was going on in the borough.”
He later added: “Last year I had the privilege of visiting the Frog Island plant. Not many residents know that a lot of the product that goes through black bags we actually recycle and potentially sell. It would be fantastic to advertise the good work that particular plant does and promote it.”
The panel spent nearly half the 30-minute meeting responding to him.
Ask the Cabinet, at which councillors are banned from asking questions, replaced area committee meetings as a platform for residents to talk directly to council leaders.
Cllr Clarence Barrett, leader of the opposition, said: “It was more like a Conservative Party conference than a genuine opportunity for residents to ask serious questions.
“We frequently hear how this is meant to be an open council, but planting loaded questions which are designed to paint the administration in a favourable light is not what Ask the Cabinet should be about.”
But Cllr White denied it had been a spin exercise, saying he had had no idea Marcus would be at the meeting.
“The great thing about Ask the Cabinet is that anyone can turn up and ask questions,” he said.
The meeting provoked fury on the Angry of Havering website, with many calling the exchange “spin” and “propaganda”.
The Recorder was unable to contact Marcus.