OH to be a fly on the wall at the next Zoom meeting of Handforth Parish Council...

The Cheshire town we’d never heard of went viral last week thanks to a glorious bit of footage, now seen by over five million people, of its chaotic parish council meeting, with councillors trading insults and the chairman getting booted off the Zoom call.

While most parish councils would struggle to make a downpage paragraph in a village newsletter, this snapshot of civic life was trending on Twitter. It gave us a much-needed giggle and has spawned some amusing memes, not least a Lord of the Rings version of events, with Gandalf solemnly declaring: “Read the standing orders - read them and understand them!” There’s even talk of a musical.

The clip has lifted a veil on the quirks and curiosities of this lowest tier of local government. Parish councils meet in draughty church halls and community centres; they’re an essential cog in the local democracy wheel but, with limited powers, attract little interest from communities they serve.

Yet anyone who has been to such a meeting will know that tensions often run high in these corners of Little England. Police were once called to a parish council row in my friend’s village. She said it made Handforth look like Dibley.

As a reporter, working on a largely rural patch, I covered many council meetings and often sat through heated rows between councillors and members of the public. One meeting got a bit lively when some locals turned out to oppose a planning scheme. When it was finally time to move on to the next item on the agenda, the angry locals stormed out and the last to leave was a woman who shot the committee a look so malevolent it froze blood. She slammed the door shut and there followed a noise that sounded like a key being turned. We sat in awkward silence. Had we really been locked in to a town council meeting on a Tuesday evening?

Someone tried the door. It was indeed locked. My pen hovered above my notepad. We caught each others’ eyes. There was a snigger disguised as a cough. A bit of chuntering began to bubble into indignation from one or two flustered councillors. Nobody knew what to do, apart from the council clerk who suddenly leapt out of the window and appeared to shimmy down

a drainpipe.

He ran round to the entrance of the building, unlocked the door, calmly walked in and sat down. Everyone clapped, then carried on as if nothing had happened. Council matters were resumed.

This mild-mannered, middle-aged clerk, in his corduroy blazer, always kept his cool whenever the ranting kicked off. Not unlike one Jackie Weaver, drafted in to Handforth from the peacekeeping corps otherwise known as the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, who has been embraced by the nation for her calm, no-nonsense handling of the chaotic Zoom meeting.

Jackie is kick-ass. She could probably sort out the Middle East, or the Gallagher brothers.

Like allotment wars or leylandii feuds, angry parish councillors are an easy target.

Often pompous and pedantic, they occupy a curious hierarchy ruled by standing orders and procedural motions. But at least they care.

So let’s hear it for these local heroes, with their minutes, motions and Any Other Business, who give up their time to sit in chilly village halls (and frosty Zoom calls) to keep the wheels of local democracy turning.

These are the people who read and understand the standing orders - so we don’t have to.