While I was away a leading Tory councillor, Lynda Hyde, was accused of, and apologised for, sending offensive jokes to members of the public. They included a number of jokes about non-English speaking doctors and pantomime actors being sexually abused. Nice one, Lynda.
Councillor Hyde explained her actions to The Leader (the newspaper, not Geoffrey Theobald): “I get many emails sent to my Council address. Some of these unfortunately contain inappropriate material and when I become aware of this I always delete them. From what I remember of this particular email, it contained a long list of jokes, not all of which I read. A couple of the jokes at the beginning of the email were quite amusing and so I forwarded them on to a few friends and colleagues. We often share jokes like this, and I view it as a bit of harmless banter.
“If I had been aware of the nature of the jokes further down the email I would have deleted the whole thing and would not have forwarded it to anybody. I regret this oversight on my part and if it has caused offence to anybody then I sincerely apologise.”
Labour and Co-operative councillor, Warren Morgan, has called on councillor Hyde to consider her position. He is quoted as saying: “There is no place for this kind of racist, homophobic, disrespectful and divisive material in today’s society, not least at a troubled time when we are trying to bring communities together. No elected politician should be associating themselves with this kind of material and if they are they should consider their position.”
Councillor Hyde is definitely guilty of one thing, foolishness. If she did not know the content of the email she should not have forwarded it. Ignorance is no defence.
Whether it was from a council email address or not is not relevant. Telling an offensive joke in the privacy of ones home is as bad as telling such a joke in public.
There is now the question of a referral to the Council’s Standards Committee. I hope she is not referred. The Standards Committee is a costly and undemocratic arrangement that allows politicians to sit in judgement on their opponents (and enemies in their own party). I opposed the action taken against Jason Kitcat (for posting video clips from a Council meeting on You Tube), the referral of Dawn Barnett (for her political stunt of referring travellers to Green-held wards), or Lynda Hyde (for distributing offensive jokes). No panel should have the right to suspend a councillor from representing their constituents.
There are three groups who could stand in judgement on the actions of councillors:
First, the councillor’s own political group which is judged by it’s membership. If a councillor’s actions aren’t supported or cannot be defended by the majority of that group, he or she should have the whip withdrawn, temporarily or permanently (or in the case of the Greens, expelled from the Green group, with or without their protracted mediation processes).
Second,the full Council who should remove a councillor from representing the Council in an official capacity or serving on a particular or all committees.
Third, the electorate, the most important judges of elected representatives. If the good folk of Rottingdean Coastal are happy that councillor Hyde has circulated offensive material, even unknowingly, they can support her at the ballot box. Labour and the Greens should make this an electoral issue.
Of course it would be best of all if the electorate had the power of recall, but that is debate for another day.