The angriest public exchanges between councillors for years took place in a debate over a plan to give the Royal Air Force a civic honour from Wrexham Council.
Temperatures were already running high in the sweltering Guildhall council chamber when Councillors Marc Jones and Mark Pritchard clashed.
The agenda item appeared innocuous with Councillor David Griffiths, Wrexham’s Armed Forces Champion, presenting the plans for a RAF civic honour to the Full Council meeting. Cllr Griffiths gave an overview of the historical links between Wrexham and the RAF in a brief potted history, which you can read in full in our earlier report here.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, newly re-elected Council Leader, stood to offer his support and to second the proposal, adding his thanks to the work Cllr Griffiths had been doing behind the scenes with a wider comment, “I hope it is successful, we can never do enough for the services.
“The truth is a lots of them don’t come back, men and women go to war and least we can do is honour them in this way and give them all the support we can.”
Cllr Marc Jones then stood to speak, saying he believed the proposal ‘meant well’, adding “Wrexham has historic and genuine link with Welch Fusiliers, recognised as our local military connection, and there is a real connection there. I don’t believe this is real connection, I think this is a PR stunt.”
At that point Cllr Pritchard rocketed to his feet, loudly addressing the Chairman of the meeting, the new Mayor Cllr Andy Williams: “Chair can I call a Point of order? I am not going to let him stand and say this is a PR stunt. I am calling a point of order, I think the elected member is a disgrace and should sit down.”
“As leader of the council I am not going to accept it Mr Mayor”.
Cllr Jones asked several times if he was able to finish his point, which the Mayor allowed.
Cllr Marc Jones went on: “We have just heard about trials and tribulations with people with mental health, we have supported that. If we look on the streets today in wrexham have got homeless ex service people struggling with mental health, drink, drugs and PTSD. That is something we should be centring our attention on, rather than having a march, putting money and time and effort towards a march.”
Addressing his point to Cllr Griffiths he added: “I know meant well Dave, the fact of matter is at time of austerity and at a time of when we are looking at people with mental health issues, I don’t think this is going to promote those issues.
“If only so good at looking after ex service people when they come out of the military as we are as recruiting them maybe we would not have these problems on our doorsteps today, as that is the reality of war. We shouldn’t be glorifying war, should be stopping war.”
At this point Cllr Pritchard rose again and shouted over Cllr Jones to loudly object via the Mayor again.
In a battle to be heard Cllr Jones raised his voice to say Cllr Pritchard ‘should not be leader of the council’ if an alternative point of view was not acceptable.
Cllr Pritchard said: “Mr Mayor, I can accept an alternative point of view but I am not going to stand here…”
The Mayor then asked both councillors to ‘sit down’, however an angry Cllr Pritchard went on: “If the elected member wants a lesson in history he needs to look at the Battle of Britain and what the RAF did for this United Kingdom and saved it.”
Cllr Jones then interjected asking if a valid point of order was being made, with the meeting again descending into two men shouting over each other.
The Mayor then firmly said: “I am going to stop you both, and ask you both to sit down”, inviting Cllr Griffiths to speak in an attempt to defuse the argument.
Cllr Griffiths calmly said, “Marc, I fully respect what you say” adding: “What we want is to recognise is people in these wars and RAF’s contribution to it, to allow us, yourself and the leader to debate today through free speech. This is what it is about, people sacrificed their lives for it.”
“Wrexham is doing more than most other counties in Wales, or Great Britain. They are looking to us to what we are doing for armed forces and ex-armed forced and people suffering with mental health issues, so we are doing it in Wrexham.”
“We are not leaving them on their own”.
Adding that Cllr Jones was entitled to his point of view, he added: “They fought two world wars for freedom of speech, and that freedom of speech should carry on forever. Saying that, this report is about recognising the RAF contribution in World War 1 and World War 2”.
Cllr Marc Jones clarified he was attempting to propose an amendment, saying there are an estimated 13,000 ex-service personnel who are homeless in the UK, and therefore wanted to see councillors donate the £1000 budget mentioned in the report to help them get off the streets.
Cllr Griffiths clarified that the £1000 budget in the report was indicative and no firm figures or plans for any events had been made.
Pritchard v King rankle… Clr Pritchard presents report, but nattering on Labour benches stops him. Clr Pritchard indicates towards Clr King and asks for some ‘respect to be shown’.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) May 23, 2018
Cllr Malcom King had been effectively been told off by Cllr Pritchard earlier in the meeting and appeared to seize the moment to even things up, taking his time to settle on a point that was aimed at Cllr Pritchard rather than the amendment: “I found the leader of the council’s interruptions grossly offensive.”
“To shout someone down for having an alternative view in democratic forum like this is grossly offensive. I can’t accept that.”
Asking for Cllr Pritchard to apologise, he added: “I hope the leader of council sees that he is quite wrong is doing that. He may find what Cllr Jones said is wrong and disagrees with it totally, but we can’t shout people down for having strongly held views. We are nowhere if we get like that.”
Cllr Andrew Atkinson said Cllr Jones was entitled to his view, “When it comes to any decision with spending money there is always a choice to do it or not to do it, so I can always understand someone thinking there is an alternative course of action.”
“The bit that is grossly offensive is that it was called a PR stunt, that goes from having a view of taking a different course of action to something that is grossly offensive and I find myself getting really really angry the longer I sit here thinking about that.”
Adding he thought it was ‘shameful’, he went on: “I would ask for Cllr Jones to apologise for using those words saying it is a PR stunt, when this is something honourable, decent and respectful.”
Cllr Paul Jones spoke to say there was a ‘place for both’, adding ‘to a certain extent it is a PR stunt’ but thought it was justifiable as ‘they need to keep the army and the forces in the public eye’ to generate the funds that are needed to help support servicemen and women on the streets.
A simmering Cllr Pritchard took to his feet again: “I have not calmed down, I don’t think I should calm down and I am not going to calm down.
“I am not going to apologise Cllr King, absolutely. I stand by what I said in this chamber. I will stand by it tomorrow, next week and the year and year after. Cllr Atkinson summed it up rather well.
“I am trying to be fair here and dignified, when really I am furious.”
“We are here asking this Council, and the people of Wrexham, not a PR stunt, to celebrate what the RAF has done for this country. I will leave it at that.”
The amendment was taken to a vote, where it was defeated with 29 councillors against. Cllr Marc Jones and his Plaid Cymru group voted for it. Wrexham Labour and unaligned independent councillor Mike Davies abstained from the vote.
Clr Marc Jones amendment voted down, with Labour abstaining – Clr Pritchard shaking his head as the group raised their hands to indicate as such. Debate carries on as the main item yet to be voted on.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) May 23, 2018
Cllr Kelly carried on the wider debate, relating time he spent at Woodhall Spa last year where last year a commemoration to Bomber Command has been created, and personal family experiences with the RAF, adding he felt it was ‘entirely fitting we recognise connection with RAF and families in this town’.
Cllr Paul Pemberton noted Cllr Marc Jones’ work promoting the welsh language saying he was disappointed with comments made, “If these RAF guys, ladies and gentlemen who flew, had not done the job, we would not be speaking welsh, or english, we would all be speaking German.”
Cllr Hugh Jones said he ‘respected peoples right to have a view on war and the consequences of war’, however took issue with the ‘PR stunt’ comment, “It is disingenuous for any of us who know the work Cllr Griffiths does as our armed forces champion, will know he is sincere, genuine and dedicated. He is the last person in the world to come up with a publicity stunt.”
Cllr Hugh Jones went on to point out Cllr Marc Jones was aware of the ‘Gold Group’ work locally that is set up to tackle substance abuse and homelessness, and questioned why the point would be raised in relation to the agenda item noting that it was not an ‘and or, we are doing both’.
Cllr David A Bithell was less nuanced, calling the comments by Cllr Marc Jones a ‘PR stunt by Wrexham Plaid Cymru’, adding: “The reality is this council, since 2013, has signed the armed forces covenant and subsequently to that appointed an Armed Forces Champion. To my knowledge we have never had any objection from anybody since 2013 on armed forces or armed forces champion.
“Getting money and lobbying for funds for homeless, this is not the report to do that. I think Cllr Jones should know better than that, and if there is any PR stunt, the PR stunt is on behalf of Wrexham Plaid Cymru, not this council.”
The Legal Officer explained that the vote on Freedom of the Boroughs have special rules that means it needs to pass by not less than 2/3rds majority of those councillors present, rather than a normal style council vote.
The overall agenda item passed, with 38 councillors in favour and the three members of the Plaid Cymru abstaining.
You can watch the full agenda item here for the next six months via the Wrexham Council webcast service, where the top image was taken from.