Condemning the rent-a-mob antics of the anti-Traveller Tories

As my regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) know, I am a big fan of Thatcher’s Granny, councillor Dawn Barnett of Hangleton and Knoll. I like her style if not her politics.

But I was disappointed that she apparently led a group of 50 or so to disrupt a constituency surgery of the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

As a child I was always told that there are two areas of political neutrality. The first being the polling station where numbers are collected and shared by agents of each party. There is no political point-scoring and, if you have ever had the huge good fortune to team up on such an occasion with campaigner-extraordinaire, Christopher Hawtree, a fun time is had by all.

The second is the MP’s constituency surgery. This is a relatively modern creation, dating back to the 1970’s and created by theLiberal Party who were re-inventing politics with there concept of ‘pavement politics’. Roy Hattersley quotes one of his predecessors giving a pledge to return to the constituency every three months to report on his work in Parliament. The idea of MP’s becoming super social workers is new. Yet it is important part of their role, yet one that is under-resources necessitating the lovely Momma Grizzly to have a second job packing shelves at Asda.

The MP’s surgery allows constituents, many of whom are troubled, desperate, even distressed, to meet one of their elected representatives. There sometimes needs to be anonymity because of the sensitive issues that might be being brought.

Imagine then, if you will, the sight and noise of 50 protesters ‘dropping in’. Councillor Barnett had been led to believe it was a public meeting. It wasn’t. Mistakes happen and I am sure that had Dawn realised it was a surgery, she would not have disrupted it.

Similarly, councillor Brian Pidgeon was there. I wonder how his constituents from Patcham, who had come to see their MP, felt about him being part of this rent-a-mob.

Why was councillor Barnett there at all? It isn’t in her ward, not even in the constituency within which her ward is located. When I questioned why the People’s Mike was doing more in Brighton Pavilion than in his own constituency, I was told it was because Caroline Lucas wasn’t doing a good job. Anyone who has dealt with Ms Lucas knows that she is an extraordinary dedicated, hard-working and diligent constituency MP.

But I digress. Back to Thatcher’s Granny. Does she feel a need to intervene in the affairs of Patcham ward because the ward councillors are doing such a bad job? If so, Brian Pidgeon should have a word with his Conservative colleagues in Patcham, Geoffrey Theobald and Carol Theobald, rather than inconvenience ordinary citizens by interrupting the MP’s surgery.

The issue of travellers might be contentious, but it does not justify councillors Barnett and Pidgeon acting like lawless hooligans nor using local residents with a genuine, but perhaps ill-conceived, concern regarding Travellers as pawns in their highly politicised campaign against the Green Member of Parliament.

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22 Responses

  1. I too was very concerned to read that Cllrs were interupting an MPs surgery. It would be a great deal more understandable if most of the problems in Hove were under control, if the surplus time of other elected representatives could be applied to help Caroline address her caseload. Indeed in many senses that is how things should be. After all being an MP or Councillor is not a skill that is not transferable. However stirring up trouble for other elected representatives is not merely juvenile (metaphorically speaking) but is an insult to the electorate and is what standards committees should address (although I think Eric Pickles is doing away with those).

  2. I don’t remember the same righteous indignation when Jason Kitcat encouraged people to picket Mike Weatherley and Simon Kirby’s surgeries? Strange that.

  3. If this was a group of anarchists in hoodies disrupting a surgery, the Tories would be falling over themselves to condemn it.

    Seems that that out local Tories think that direct action is a good thing now, but it seems the difference between good direct action and the sort the Tories still condemn is wearing a twin set and pearls.

  4. There is a law against what Cllrs Barnett and Pigeon did. Any animal rights person could tell you that. They used to be able to picket and demonstrate outside the homes of people thought connected to various kinds of animal abuse. Now they would be arrested, charged and gain criminal records for doing it.

    I suggest she confers with Cllr Graham Cox to ascertain her precise legal position at this time.

    In addition, there is the Breach of Peace, Fear and Harassment variations on a theme of arrest, charge and criminal conviction for her to contemplate.

  5. The tale of the interrupted surgery certainly makes for a good story, but in reality fanciful leftie nonsense. I would hardly describe an ordinary bunch of middle age people from Brighton and Hove, together with some concerned staff from the local RSPCA, a riotous mob! I always thought MPs were supposed to big brave things who stand out on the street and shout their views at passers by, not shy retiring violets, who are overawed at meeting people with justified concerns. Secondly, I find your description of Cllr Barnett, purile, insulting and spiteful, certainly compared with the gravity you award to the Green MP. Cllr Barnett happens to one of the most hard working and well meaning city councillors about.

    • Well meaning occasionally, not well meaning just as occasionally and this action from a serving Councillor is a serious issue raising serious concerns her Party should not be encouraging or supporting. Would you support Smash Edo people doing anything comparable?

      You are a gallant gentleman, Trevor, but this streetfighting ‘maiden’ does not deserve your knightly rescue.

    • Hi Trevor, I have no way of comparing who are the hardest working Councillors but I do know that Dawn Barnett seems to spend a fair bit of time stirring up ill feelings towards Travellers. That to me seems to misunderstand what her role is which is to represent her constituents (who are not in Patcham) and along with other Councillors in this City provide leadership on Civic Matters. That should include protecting minority groups including Travellers, not stirring up prejudice. If that is part of her hard work, it is not the sort of work that she should be applauded for.

  6. Disgraceful. But so were Cllr Barnett’s earlier antics in directing travellers to Green wards. Did she ever display such a level of concern over this issue when her party were in power at council level? I don’t think so.

    The only thing I would quibble with here is the use of the term ‘rent-a-mob’. I wasn’t there, of course, but I imagine many of these people had legitimate concerns. But they were being used, in order to embarrass another political party, that’s true enough.

    This harks back to the previous post. For far too many people in politics, the end becomes the means, and they spend much of their time simply trying to embarrass opponents, often when they have no better ideas themselves. It is so depressing and demeaning. But I am pretty sure that a slate of independents isn’t the answer: I don’t know what is.

    Look at how badly independents have fared in B+H in the past, with the exception of Jane whatsername in Hove Park, now cheerfully back in the Tory fold so not a good example.

    I’d like to know when exactly Jason Kitcat suggested a picket of the Tory MPs’ surgeries. Bet that wasn’t what he said.

    • Despite my position as an Independent for Police & Crime Commissioner, I would certainly not advocate that as a wholesale solution for Councils or necessarily for Parliament across the piece. We need to be able to elect people who will show leadership and have the organsiational structure in place to be able to apply it. However there is a responsibility on the individual Cllrs to demonstrate they want the best for the city as a whole and not simply taking pot shots at one another. The Conservatives may have made themselves believe that this was a success, and there may even be some supporters who agree. However if Cllr Barnett thinks she is increasing the appeal of her party to those who don’t always vote Conservative she is completely bonkers.

    • Independents work harder, Clive. They have to. Why are you sure Independents are not the answer? What is the argument in your head that took you to that position?

      If politicians were just a minority component of a Council mix and Independents with expertise to bring to the table were the majority, it would be a very different story to the one dominated by political parties.

      Should every party politician instead run as an Independent at the next election, what do you think their chances of winning would be? Mostly, null points.

      People don’t vote for the individual people for councillor, they vote for parties in the main and this allows dross to sit in the chamber in large numbers pretending to serve the public. Over the years I have seen rank helplessness in the face of requests to councillors for interventions and assistance. They are mostly out of their depth. And that is because they have no incentive to acquire any level of knowledge worth having of how the council officers work, the system and all the details. It is pitiful.

      People get persuaded by candidates to vote for their party and that is as good as it gets.

      Too many Greens are becoming officer lickspittles now and losing their backbones and ability to call officers to account on behalf of the public they supposedly represent. And so it was in the previous Administration and the previous one before that too, but less so. I am deeply upset and alarmed at how happily the Greens are turning into the Stepford Greens supporting officers instead of the officers supporting them. The officers will be very pleased that they are proving to be eminently ‘trainable’. There are a slew of other words I’d prefer to use…..

      Jayne Bennett, as an Independent, took a hands-on interest in earning her votes on a daily basis, usually in the form of informing residents of factual matters rather than just leaflets full of time wasting Party-Political BULL. She was a regular at meetings presenting petitions (and not just at Full Council) and providing resident perspective on various issues. She took the trouble to attend the Appeal for Park House as a contributing witness. Is she so active now she is back in the party fold?

      Independents as a rare breed cannot be influential in big voting arenas but a chamber full of them might be a very useful alternative to what is on offer now.

      Cllr Barnett is a loose cannon but you know what, I bet she would be elected if she was an independent pushing her tabloid-level agendas. That says sad things about the electorate.

      • Good to read your passion for Independents Valerie – I hope I can call on your support for my campaign as Police and Crime Commissioner on 15th November?

      • I don’t usually post on this blog, because I find it has a left-wing bias, especially towards the Green party. BPB makes the BBC look positively balanced.

        However, I find the comments here about Cllr Barnett disingenuous. Was Ms Paynter actually at the Patcham surgery meeting? How many who are commenting on here were actually saw and heard what went on? Can you imagine Cllr Pidgeon, who is not the most robust of people physically, being caught up in a ‘rent-a-mob’ group? If you weren’t there, you have no right to make comments as though it was fact.

        As for Valerie Paynter and her caustic and bullying remarks of Cllr. Barnett, Dawn is one of the most hard-working, well-meaning and popular councillors I have met. I have spoken to many of her constituants, and even the ones that usually vote Labour are full of praise for her care and concern. There are not many politicians/councilllors who appeal to voters across the piece and are authentic and sincere (except maybe Boris Johnson) I don’t think Ms Lucas can say she is as popular outside her party.

        The Traveller issue has become a cause celebre in the local Green party. Personally, I think the whole issue should be based on fairness and equality. i.e whatever your background or ethnicity, everyone should obey the law and be equal under the law. If people are not allowed to develop on the SDNP, then it shouldn’t be developed on for one particular group of people. If that is seen to be the case, it will cause resentment and exacerbate bad feeling with the local community.

  7. Valerie: my point about independents was simply that they don’t get elected when they stand, therefore it can’t really the answer, since getting elected is a prerequisite to any kind of cultural change. Bemoaning the lack of interest and intelligence shown by electorate is not going to get us very far, and I am not even sure it is true – look at the high incidence of cross-party voting in local elections.

    However, I do think there is an issue about voting for someone where there is no label on the tin. At least if they are standing for a party you know roughly what you are going to get, for all the faults of the party system. Voting for an independent is more like handing over a blank cheque: it is riskier, though that is not to say that people shouldn’t stand as independents or that I, personally, wouldn’t vote for them if they appeared to be the best candidate, and had a chance of winning.

    You are right that elected councillors should call the shots of course. Recently I bemoaned the use of the term ‘chief executive’ on exactly that basis: ‘city clerk’ would be more like it. But officers have a lot of experience and if policy is to be based on evidence and not personal whim, this ought to count for something.

    Margot (if I may): I can’t help feeling that travellers are far more of a cause celebre for the Conservatives than for the Greens. First there was outrage over incursions in parks (fair enough in itself, though not in the way the point was made and not in the implication that this is a new development, and somehow all the Greens’ fault).

    Then, when a permanent site is mooted to help deal with the issue (with central govt blessing, I believe) that is all wrong too. So what exactly are your party’s own positive suggestions on this issue? What are Tory-run East and West Sussex county councils doing?

    The blogger can speak for himself, but this is avowedly a centre-left blog, not bound by a charter. Unbiased blogs are like hens’ teeth and that’s probably the way it ought to be. (And the BBC is pretty balanced, on the whole, unlike Sky).

  8. I fear that BPB is protesting rather too much. These additional surgeries have been started by Caroline as ‘open surgeries in community venues’. They are clearly not intended to be a replacement for the regular, weekly, surgeries that Caroline offers, and which are private, and you can book a slot at. Caroline clearly wishes to engage with her electors in a different way – rather like the day after her election with her street surgery, and it is inevitable that some groups of people will seek to take advantage of this. It didn’t happen at the first meeting as we are told that – ‘The first of these took place at Patcham Library last month, where I was joined by local resident and Green Councillor Pete West.

    There was an excellent turnout, a fruitful discussion on travellers, and several action points for me to take away, on both individual cases and broader Patcham issues.

    We will have to se whether such events continue to be targetted by particular groups, but if they are, then surely that is the outcome of having established such an opportunity. Individuals can still see Caroline in private if they wish, and I’m sure that the Green Party is capable of ensuring that any larger public meetings have a balance of views expressed at them.

  9. I just wonder if Margot or Trevor could explain why as a hard working Councillor in Hove she spends so much time in another ward (this is to my knowledge her second visit to Patcham) to debate Travellers with Caroline?

    • Good morning Ian,

      I am heartened that you also seem to identify Cllr Barnett as a hard working public servant. I believe she manages to achieve all of the coverage that she does, because she donates her entire life to the job. Perhaps she may seem a bit of a “loose cannon”, but surely this demonstrates genuine enthusiasm for the role. Counter this to the productivity of certain other councillors of different persuasions, who do absolutely nothing, and achieve nothing from one week to the next , but always manage to make a lot of noise to appear busy.

    • Brighton & Hove isn’t a particularly big city – what happens in one ward quite often impacts many others and a good councillor of any party should, in my view, remember that they are a member of Brighton & Hove City Council, not just Patcham, Goldsmid, SPNL or any other. Of course a councillor’s first responsibility is to her constituents, but there is another overarching responsibility to the citizenry as a whole.

      I’m no Tory, although I respect Ms. Barnett’s willingness to address a problem mainly borne by less-well off residents which most other councillors either ignore – or in the case of the administration’s previous statements, excacerbate.

      • Unwise to forget that neither Cllr Barnett nor any of her serving and formerly serving Conservative colleagues had the slightest interest in dealing with the travellers as a problem during their time as the Administration of said city.

      • To Trevor, I believe that most of our elected Cllrs and MPs are very hard working and whilst I have genuine concerns about the way in which some express this, or the skills they bring to a very challenging role I would not doubt their commitment to serve the public who all too often fail to appreciate what they do on our behalf.

        To Tim I hope that Dawns visit to Carolines ad-hoc surgery is an attempt to begin some strategic dialogue on a matter which as Valerie has mentioned the Tories on Brighton Council do not have a good track record on. I was present in Patcham for a previous visit by Dawn when Mike Weatherly conducted a meeting on the issue of Travellers. Sadly none of the Tory Cllrs who spoke (including Dawn), or Mike sought to address the challenge which faces the city of how to fulfil our obligation to provide a permanent site. This is a challenge which all of the political parties nationally accept, but to date only the Greens have sought to address locally (and I do not write as a traditional supporter of the Green party).

        To Valerie, having adviocated the role of Independents can i expect you to support my campaign as Police and Crime Commissioner?

  10. Evening Tim,
    While i am sure that you are very well meaning and maybe believe what you say, the fact is that like most politicians pitching for senior roles, you are saying what you think people want to hear. That is probably the biggest reason why few are going out to vote nowadays, because they are fed up with being talked at, and being force fed a diet of glibe platitudes. Should you really think that all councillors work very hard, I would suggest that you increase your intelligence gathering facilities. Regarding the subject of travellers, you know that because of Blair legislation, it is not really on the agenda for anyone in public service to have a serious discussion about what our responsibilities are ,or are not.

  11. “highly politicised campaign against the Green Member of Parliament.”

    Isn’t that what politicians do all the time or is Caroline really above the fray?

    Come on BPB, don’t go back to treating the Greens like lost puppies. You were doing so well!

  12. Boudicca Barnett is the cow in the china shop, the mistress of populism and the Argus’s darling for all the storms she creates. But she must be filling a vacuum to get the response that she does.

    It was a pity that Caroline wasn’t roughed up -so that the attack dog style of Boudicca could come back and bite her instead, as the public sympathy would get behind the victim.

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