The week that local government took the limelight
“You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver.”
Such were the words that this last week became infamous across Twitter feeds, television chat shows and team Whatsapp chats up and down the country. The story behind the sentence that went viral? It all started with a parish council meeting.
If you haven’t spent the week watching the story unfold at your fingertips, then I’m referencing a video depicting a turbulent Handforth Parish Council meeting in which council clerk Jackie Weaver became a household name. In a nutshell, the video sees Jackie attempt to bring order to a chaotic meeting of parish councillors, only to be told that she didn’t have the authority to do so –inciting her memorable decision to remove the councillor from the video call. If you haven’t seen it yet – or even if you have – you can indulge in the rollercoaster here.
It’s not every week that parish councils become pop culture. Despite playing an important part in making sure that our local places run effectively, they’re a topic that seldom make the headlines – and something that many people don’t know all that much about.
A quick chat with a few close friends told a similar story. While all super intelligent, conscientious Gen Z-ers and millennials, it came to light that most had heard of Jackie Weaver and Handforth, but before watching that video they had known little of parish councils – or even that they existed at all.
But thanks to the ‘meme-able’ content that brought the video call into the mainstream, along with the more serious, topical implications behind the conversation’s dynamic, many are suddenly taking notice. With participants struggling to get to grips with technology, talking over each other and forgetting to mute themselves (we’ve all been there), the video made the parish council meeting fundamentally recognisable, relatable – and accessible. Meanwhile, the unacceptable way that Jackie was spoken to by others on the call sparked many to take to social media to call out this action (more to come on this later).
The sheer quantity of commentaries and adaptations since has been a real testament to the power of digital communications to bring new audiences to local government and a wider political agenda.
For days, many people’s morning Twitter scroll was serenaded by musical renditions of that famous line, while countless creative memes managed to connect the dots between Jackie pressing the remove button and well-known scenes from sitcoms. Bringing local government not just into the mainstream but to the attention of that supposedly “hard-to-reach” Gen Z demographic with a widespread impact also caused Jackie Weaver to trend on Twitter, and incited major interviews across the likes of the BBC, Sky News, Good Morning Britain and Channel 4 comedy show The Last Leg. And that’s not to mention numerous spin-off stories that were generated off the back of the buzz – like this BBC headline.
In much the same way as a PR stunt, this real-life, commonplace meeting captured the attention of people across generations and encouraged them to have their say, whoever they were. The video itself was shared by a young person interested in their local political agenda and there are promising signs that it has the potential to generate greater diversity in engagement across local politics.
For me, this memorable week has demonstrated the power of digital to bring topics like local government into the mainstream. The cataclysmic digital shift of the last year provides many opportunities to address the challenge of engaging with young people around local decision-making. But to gain a diversity of views, communications around this agenda need to be accessible and on their terms.
Will the ‘Handforth episode’ encourage a younger and more diverse range of people to say ‘I could do better’ and get involved in local politics? We hope so, and with the limelight on local politics with regional elections upcoming, let’s hope this meme can spark a shift in how politics reflects our society.
After all, as passionate as the parish councillors of Handforth clearly are about their community, the visible window into its membership that Zoom and other video platforms offer doesn’t paint a picture of modern, diverse Britain. For example, the way in which Jackie Weaver was spoken to by the male chair and others has been cited by some commentators as an example of the challenges unfortunately many women still face in politics and some workplaces. Let’s hope that this is one viral phenomenon that can achieve lasting change by encouraging more people from a range of different backgrounds to get involved, so that local politics can truly reflect the issues that matter to them.
At Social, we offer a fully-integrated communications service which enables organisations and businesses to tell their story to a diversity of audiences and engage in the right way. If you’d like to find out more about how Social provides support for the built environment and political spheres, you can visit Social Place at our website, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Leeds MD Pete Wrathmell at email@example.com