The Political Voice as Demonstrated by the Councillors of Handforth
Overnight Handforth Parish Council has become the most famous parish council in Britain. A zoom call from a meeting in December 2020 has gone viral.
I’m going to assume that like me, you are extremely online and have already seen the full 18 minutes.
The video is so compelling because it surfaces the full spectrum of issues facing contemporary Britain. The lockdown and the phenomenon of the Zoom Room. Boomers. The moribund nature of public discourse. The banality and absurdity of little England and its political life.
Let’s consider the opening 8 seconds. Which encapsulates the nature of Brexit Britain.
Voice 1: When do we plan to start?
Voice 2: Fuck Off
Voice 3: I think we could start at any moment chairman
“When do we plan to start?”
IE: When should we begin thinking about the activities required to achieve our desired goal.
The disregard for both the activities and the process needed to achieve the desired goal.
“I think we could start at any moment chairman”.
The word chairman signals to those in attendance that politics has begun.
The video is surreal. Which is where the comedy is found.
Participants LARPing how they believe politics should be conducted.
If you follow local politics. You’ll know that this video is only one or two notches above what is considered ‘normal behaviour’ across the country.
Handforth Parish Council represents a population of about 7000 people.
Barry Burkill, one of the figures kicked out the call, was elected with 316 votes in 2019 on a turnout of 42.6%.
Local politics is not the abstracted comings and goings of Westminster. The people involved are likely to bump into each other in the street, or in the carpark at Sainsbury’s. and yet they speak to each other like like they are anon trolls on Twitter.
Local politics is the mechanism by which people can shape their environs and day to day reality.
Here’s some examples of things a Parish Council has power over.
Local community assets like village halls and community centres. Local parks and swimming pools.
The bins in the highstreet. They can set rates in the car park (as the call goes on to discuss) and are the guardians of our common land.
They are also one of the only entities in British political life with a mandate for long term thinking. In the form of the local plan.
Under the Localism Act 2011. Parish councils are granted a “general power of competence”. In principle parish councils can set up their own companies or co-operatives. They can lend or invest money locally, run a shop, a post office or even an energy company.
They don’t however. Because Brexit Britain is more concerned with titles, personal power and the petty procedure of standing orders. Bullying, bad behaviour and a British silent contempt for one’s neighbours.
The zoom room reveals an important element of the British – or more specially – the English – psyche. A spell that is well known, but little understood and almost never acknowledged.
And that is the power in the invocation of the Political Voice.
Through the magic of the political voice it is possible to imbue any situation with the weight and inertia of the British State.
Try it yourselves. On your first visit to the pub after lockdown appoint a chairman for the evening and role play it from there.
Everyone will immediately adopt the same Political Voice as demonstrated by the councillors of Handforth.
“I propose to you chairman, after a careful review of the evidence before me I put it to the table that it is time for another round”.
“The honourable lady to my left is suggesting table crips. I’d like to second that motion.”
“Please do excuse me for a moment table members. I must adjourn to the wet room.”
Non English listeners may be skeptical – but Trust me. We can produce this formal bullshit all evening . We can all talk like this for hours with no break at all.
The Political Voice draws from the imaginary of the upper class. A role play that gives any situation more power. In invocation of the British state. By aping its mannerisms.
The political voice is a phenomenon found at all levels of society. From the beginning of a team meeting with an agenda, to every appraisal, and every covering letter.
All the way up to the grifters currently in charge of the UK. Think about Boris Johnson, Rees Mogg, Priti Patel. All spout this formal bullshit all the time. They sound competent but in reality are far from it.
One of the main reasons the media backed Sir Keir Starmer during his election campaign for Labour leader was that he is apparently “what a effective opposition leader should look and sound like”.
The bullshit formalism of the political voice is like the Force. It surrounds us, penetrates us and binds Brexit Britain together. Paradoxically it is also the cause of it. British society would collapse without it.
Watching the Handforth Parish Council video reveals how we got to where we are. I don’t know what we can do about it to be honest. Other than speaking plainly in the public sphere.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.