A Leeds City Council debate about TV licences ended in an extraordinary argument in which the administration was branded “Marxist” by an opposition councillor.
A full meeting of the authority saw councillors debating a motion put forward by the ruling Labour group calling on the government to step in and reinstate universal free TV licences for over 75s, following the recent announcement that many would now have to pay.
Attacking the motion, Conservative councillor Ryan Stephenson claimed this was an example of “hypocrisy”, branding the administration Marxist. Marxism is a left wing political philosophy derived from the works of 19th century German writer Karl Marx.
A senior Labour councillor branded his comments “the worst display” she had ever seen in the council chamber.
The motion, known as a white paper, which was to be voted on by councillors read: “This Council believes free TV licences are an invaluable lifeline to thousands of older people in Leeds at risk of social isolation.
“Council therefore opposes the proposal to scrap this vital pensioner benefit and calls on the Government to honour the promise made in the Conservative 2017 manifesto and fully fund the TV licence for all over 75s.”
In the debate that followed, Coun Stephenson praised the BBC, urging members to watch the Panorama special entitled: “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?”, which was aired later that evening.
He continued: “This is a Marxist administration in Labour, that would say that people who have done well for themselves should not be allowed to send their children to grammar schools, people who have built up businesses should be taxed more.
“This Marxist administration believes [the elderly] should pay more tax, but also think they should get free TV licence and free winter fuel allowance.
“Let’s shine a spotlight on the hypocrisy being brought forward by the Marxist administration at the top which is seeping down to this Marxist administration in Leeds.”
Lord Mayor of Leeds Eileen Taylor, who was chairing the meeting, said: “Before we get onto the next speaker, I should think the chief whip of your party will have a word with you in the near future.”
The deputy leader of Leeds City Council Coun Debra Coupar said: “I hope I can bring a bit of sense to this debate after the last speaker, who I don’t think deserves our response. A worse display I don’t think I have ever seen in this council chamber before.
“It angers and disheartens me that yet again, there is another government move to disadvantage some of our most vulnerable citizens.
“The impact of social isolation has already been highlighted and I agree with this point of view. A large number of people depend on the television as a companion. It provides information on current affairs, and information regarding their local communities.
“This government seems to forget that their actions have severe implications.”
Summing up, Coun Charlwood said: “Well, that descended into something of interest, didn’t it?
“We were talking about turning the telly on at any time of day, and it descended into that from the conservatives.
“What it shows me is that they are running scared on older people’s issues and they do not like their backs being pinned to a wall. And it shows that they have no answers when it comes to older people in this country.
“It’s a very nice simple thing that we are saying people in the city can switch on the telly and watch it. If you are saying ceebeebies and Question Time is elitist, for god’s sake, this really is scraping the barrel.
“You have overreacted when it comes to free TV licences – what a little thing to get upset about.
“I am really proud that our side came up with a very sensible motion.”
The motion was voted on and subsequently carried.