From virtual birthday parties to work meetings that definitely could have been emails, Zoom calls have infiltrated most of our lives in one way or another throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
With physical meetings off the cards, video call technology has also made its mark on local politics, with the public now able to watch the minutiae of council meetings play out in the comfort of their own homes.
Aside from a few technical hiccups, this has gone without incident. Until, that is, a clip of an extraordinary meeting of Handforth Parish Council’s planning and environment committee surfaced online and changed the game forever.
In scenes that can only be described as unmitigated chaos, the titans of the Cheshire parish’s political scene came face to face – and proceedings soon turned ugly. Put it this way: the name of the clerk, Jackie Weaver, was the top trending item on Twitter at one stage on Thursday evening.
Though the meeting on December 10 was only supposed to decide on planning applications such as a new front porch, the tone was set early on when an unseen councillor mumbled “f*** off” under their breath.
Chair Brian Tolver was then removed, having already been evicted from a planning and environment committee.
Tolver refused to recognise the legitimacy of either meeting and in a now iconic moment told Weaver, of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, to “stop talking”. “You have no authority here,” he claimed.
In response, Weaver removed Tolver from the call and placed him in a virtual waiting room – a power move that has sparked discussion nationwide.
Following Tolver’s eviction, vice-chair Aled Brewerton, joined by an older unnamed gentleman, proceeded to yell at Weaver: “Read the standing orders”.
When fellow councillor Susan Moore called for civility, the meeting erupted into semi-hysterical laughter and two more councillors, Brewerton and Barry Burkill, were removed.
There was then confusion over Tolver’s Zoom username, in which he had labelled himself the “clerk”.
Weaver said: “The chairman simply declared himself ‘clerk’ and notified everybody of the case.
“There is no way of stopping him from calling himself clerk. Please refer to me as Britney Spears from now on.”
Those who remained in the meeting then voted to not allow the three men back in. Councillor Cynthia Samson likened one of them to a “laughing hyena”.
Minutes published online reveal that the ejected councillors were later welcomed back on the condition they “they ceased their disruptive behaviour”.
“There was no response,” the document states.
And thus, a new generation of Jackie “you can call me Britney Spears from now on” Weaver superfans was born, with the video, perhaps unsurprisingly, dominating discussion on Twitter and inspiring many an homage.
And if the 30 seconds of pure chaos wasn’t enough, fear not. Dedicated followers of Handforth Parish Council drama have put together an 18-minute supercut of the wild proceedings.
“If this goes viral on the internet or Facebook or whatever, it’s going to start a war of words,” says a member, identified as David Pincombe on the Zoom call, in an eerily prescient moment around 16 minutes in.
Handforth Parish Council can’t say they weren’t warned.