June 18, 2024
Handforth Parish Council's latest Zoom meeting was even worse than the viral original

Handforth Parish Council’s latest Zoom meeting was even worse than the viral original

But on Wednesday, still recovering from their reluctant brush with fame, members of Handforth Parish Council convened again to give the people what they wanted: A sequel.

The group’s first meeting went viral around the world earlier this month thanks to its enthralling dysfunction, petty disagreements and Machiavellian maneuvers, as councilors vied for power and senior officials were dramatically ousted to the virtual waiting room.

Their follow-up meeting was widely anticipated. And, if possible, it unraveled into deeper chaos still, as members of the public butted in and the main characters reckoned with their newfound celebrity.

But it was notably missing the lead character from the original — Jackie Weaver, an adviser to local councils, who won plaudits for rebuffing the abuse of some members, booting the council’s chairman Brian Tolver from the discussion and claiming the moniker “Britney Spears” for herself in the process.

And, if the original call was “The Godfather” of Zoom debacles, the follow-up felt more like “Grease 2” or “Jaws 3-D,” largely absent of the organic humor of the first iteration thanks to the frequent interjections of members of the public desperately trying and failing to land a joke.

Weaver told CNN on Thursday she was “saddened” by the public’s interruptions. But her verdict on some of the officials was equally tough.

“I fear that at least one of the councilors not present last night remains unrepentant and Councilor Tolver did not seem to accept any responsibility for the events of that evening in December,” she said.

CNN has contacted Tolver for comment. He told PA Media after the first meeting that Weaver “had no status to speak other than when invited,” adding: “I have reason to be angry.”

“I have not experienced similar behavior in other councils,” Weaver told CNN, reflecting on the first meeting — “although in local democracy, debate can get quite heated.”

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Tolver, the chairman whose ejection by Weaver prompted the meltdown in the original meeting, opened Wednesday’s discussion by noting it was “scheduled to take up to half an hour, we hope.”

What followed was three hours of disarray, watched via live stream by thousands of people on YouTube — undoubtedly the biggest audience a council meeting in Handforth has ever received. A few members of the public joined the Zoom call itself — some dressed in bucket hats, others in front of whimsical backgrounds.

Viewers were treated first to some exposition, as councilors caught the audience up on their off-screen story arcs (Alan Murdoch’s starting to get some nice weather in his garden, and chairman Tolver’s voice has dried up because he’s been “answering the phone to an awful lot of people”).

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But participants quickly addressed the elephant in the Zoom. “There’s a lot of interest in this meeting because of recent viral events,” Tolver said, warning his fellow councilors. “It may well be seen by a very wide audience. Various TV stations are taking note.”

“You probably don’t want to appear in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, playing the part of Julie’s iPad,” he joked to an unmoved audience. Lloyd Webber, the musical legend who created a number of popular shows, performed “a song for Jackie Weaver” earlier this month.

“One member of the public used a brief Anglo-Saxon phrase and thus earned immortality in the pages of The Times newspaper,” Tolver went on, a reference to one of many quotable lines from the prior discussion. “You can avoid this by clicking your mute button.”

Unfortunately, Tolver failed to realize that he could also mute members of the public who had joined. He and his colleagues spent much of the call batting back jokes from those participants, who quoted back at them lines from the first meeting.

There were intentional disruptions, plus technological interruptions. When one participant failed to mute his computer, Tolver jokingly warned: “You’ll be banned to Peru if you’re not careful.”

Jackie Weaver’s verdict

The first meeting dominated the internet and hooked obsessed viewers (at least until an attorney addressed a Texas court while trapped inside a cat filter).

And the biggest star to come from the call was undoubtedly Weaver, whose no-nonsense response to the significant amount of nonsense unfolding in front of her won her praise and spots on national broadcasters.

She told CNN on Thursday that her instant celebrity status had been “surreal,” adding that she’s enjoyed mixing with people she admired — like Anton du Beke, a TV dancer who met Weaver virtually. “And on the other (hand) I have been privileged to have so many people reaching out to me to find out more about local democracy.”

But her response to Wednesday’s meeting was mixed. She continued her widely-watched fued with Tolver, criticizing him for failing to take responsibility for the December fiasco. “However, we did see that the other councilors continue to quietly try to move forward on issues for the local community,” she said.

Jackie Weaver, the star of the first meeting.

Weaver was less pleased with members of the public who hijacked the call, with repeated attempts at humor that ultimately did little besides prevent the councilors from doing their job.

“I was saddened by that,” she told CNN. “By all means get interested in your local council meeting, but it is not a bull pit,” Weaver added.

Weaver wasn’t present at the second meeting, as the council has now reinstated its clerk, but she said she will continue to assist the group in the future.

And the viewing audience will surely hope she does — so that the unanswered plot lines of the first call finally get the resolution they deserve.