Dawn Barnett found guilty – a day of shame for the City’s political processes

Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett has been found guilty by Brighton and Hove City Council’s ‘Standards Committee’ of bringing her office or the local authority into disrepute. In the summer councillor Barnett handed out letters to travellers camped in her Hangleton and Knoll Ward directing them to open spaces in Green-held wards.

A full write up of the hearing can be found in Brighton and Hove News, and excellent and up to the minute online newspaper serving Brighton and Hove.

Until now I have not named the councillor who made the complaint. I had hoped that he would withdraw it. The complaint was made by Green councillor Phelim MacCafferty, who represents Brunswick and Adelaide ward. I actually think Phelim is a lovely man but that he got this one wrong. The use of the ‘Standards Committee’ system is unnecessary. Political differences should be sorted out politically rather than using a procedural process designed to silence dissenting voices. I am delighted that the days of the Standards system are numbered.

If there is one silver lining to this cloud it is that no sanction is being imposed on Dawn Barnett. I am just sorry that she, as with Jason Kitcat and Averil Older before her, have been subjected to the stress of such a hearing.

I conclude by quoting the Tory MP for Hove, Mike Weatherley: “The standards committee is not a forum to stifle freedom of expression based on political disagreements.” Absolutely right. I hope that this discredited system is not used again in Brighton and Hove.

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In defence of Dawn Barnett (and even of Tony Janio)

Once again, a democratically elected councillor might be prevented from representing her constituents because councillor Dawn Barnett is being taken before the ‘Standards’ Committee following an anonymous complaint, allegedly from a fellow councillor.

In early summer, shortly after the election of the first-ever Green Administration, councillor Barnett handed out letters to travellers encamped in her ward (Hangleton and Knoll) giving them directions to open spaces in Green-held wards.

I thought it was an imaginative and hilarious protest by councillor Barnett. So much of local politics is taken too seriously. While much of what local government does is serious stuff, occasionally a light hearted and irreverent intervention is to be welcomed. Councillor Barnett’s made one such intervention.

I like, for example, the style of councillor Tony Janio who has strongly held views that can be summarised as small local government, big third and private sectors. He takes a special delight in winding up Green councillors as witnessed by the wearing of a Stars and Stripes tie at Full Council meetings.

Now it may come as a surprise to my three regular readers (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) that I might not entirely support each and every political view articulated by the Hangleton Twins (Barnett and Janio). But I like their style.

But back to the attempt to discipline councillor Barnett. I am shocked that the hearing by the ‘Standards’ Committee might be held behind closed doors. Papers relating to the hearing have not been published because the council believes that “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outways the public interest in disclosing the information”. According to Tim Ridgway at the Argus, “It is believed the decision was made by council lawyers as they wanted to ‘downplay’ the publicity surrounding the hearing”.

This is not a matter of process, it is a political show trial. On the panel will be Tory councillor, Ann Norman, Green councillor Leo Littman, and Labour councillor Jeane Lepper. Two ‘independent’ members of the panel (which is scheduled to meet at 10am on Tuesday morning) are Peter Rose and Dr. Michael Wilkinson.

If council officials thinks that by “downplaying” the panel hearing that there will be less publicity, they are completely wrong. Try keeping something confidential, you can be assured it will leak.

And if Labour and Green councillors take a stance against Dawn Barnett because they disagree with her views regarding travellers, the issue will come back to bite them on the butt. For mark my words, if Dawn Barnett is suspended from office for even a micro-second, if she is censured for her actions, she will become a bigger legend in Hangleton and Knoll than she is already. Any chance of Labour regaining that ward will be lost; any thoughts that the Greens might have of gaining a foothold in that ward will be lost.

I opposed the Standards Committee action against Jason Kitcat, against Averil Older, and will do so against anyone else brought before this panel. The only group entitled to replace a democratically elected representative should be the voters who put them there in the first place.

I support the right to recall as strongly as I oppose the Standards Committee. I call on the person who made the complaint against councillor Barnett to withdraw it, and I call on councillors Norman, Littman and Lepper to refuse to hear this matter.

Councillors, young and Older, and candidates, young and younger

A number of councillors are standing down from Brighton and Hove City Council. All bar two are Green councillors. That’s not to say that other councillors won’t be around after May 5th. Councillor Pat Drake stands down after several decades as a County and more recently City Councillor. She is much respected, and generous, yet deserved, tributes were paid to her at the last Council meeting (just about the only civil exchange of the evening).

Councillor Averil Older stands down from her Central Hove seat. Unlike some councillors, she has remained a very normal human being, someone who is easy to talk to and to get along with. I wish both Pat and Averil happy retirements.

The Green councillors who are standing down are not retiring. Several are young and, understandably, are having to concentrate on their careers. All are very talented and the City will be all the poorer for the decision of Rachel Fryer, Paul Steedman, Vicky Wakefield-Jarret and Georgia Wrighton to stand down. I hope, like Councillor Pete West, that they will consider standing again at some point in the future.

There are other councillors who are standing but may not survive the decision of the electorate. I predict that up to six Labour councillors are at risk of losing their seats. Up to four Tories may lose their seats along with one Lib Dem and one Independent.

Hoping to win seats on the City Council are several young and very young candidates. For the Tories, Momma Grizzly (Rachael Bates, aged 22) is standing in Hollingdean and Stanmer, and the Estate Agent (Rob Buckwell, also 22) is standing in Goldsmid. For Labour, Harris Fitch (20) is standing in Rottingdean Coastal, and Clare Calder (18) is standing in St Peters and North Laine. The disappointing reality for these Young Turks, is that none have a realistic chance of being elected.

Of these four, the Estate Agent has the best chance of winning a seat although I suspect that in Goldsmid Labour’s Melanie Davis, Green Alex Phillips and another Green will be elected. Alex is currently the Baby of the Chamber having been elected less than two years ago at the age of 24. Alex has what it takes to make it big in politics, probably in Europe and in due course joining Caroline Lucas in Westminster.

Second time candidate at 25, Tom French (who fought a very strong campaign in the St Peters and North Laine by-election last year) has an outside chance of winning Queens Park for Labour, but needs to see off a strong Green presence in that ward.

The young candidate most likely to be elected is Luke Walter (22) who is standing in Hollingdean and Stanmer, although having a surname starting with ‘W’ he may be the Green to lose out should H&S return Jeane Lepper and two Greens (Sven Rufus and Christina Summers).

But the emergence of young candidates is encouraging although it is very regretable when young councillors find it necessary to stand down in order to pursue their careers.

The final word goes to Hanover and Elm Grove councillor, Vicky Wakefield-Jarrett, who has captured a tone that I would like to see between Labour and Green activists. In a tweet earlier today she wrote: “@ClareCalder I’m supporting Greens, but wanted to say i think it’s great you’re standing – I hope it’s a positive experience for you.”. I echo the sentiment, I hope that it is a positive experience for Luke, Rachael, Rob, Harris, and Clare.

Tactical voting in Central Hove – difficult one to call

Central Hove is a difficult seat to call.  The seat is currently held by Young and Older councillors, Jan Young (901 votes) and Averil Older (964).  Runners up were the Lib Dems (692 and 667 votes) with the Greens coming in third (420 and 333 votes).

Both Jan and Averil are well known and respected councillors and it is unlikely that they will be shifted.  We can expect the Lib Dem vote to collapse thanks to the ConDem coalition, with their votes spread between Labour and the Greens.  Given that Labour came a poor forth last time (317 and 304 votes), on balance anti-Tory voters should vote tactically for the Greens.

This ward should be a lower priority for the Greens than, say, Brunswick and Adelaide, although they should regard this seat as similar to Preston Park Ward where they have made a breakthrough and should win all three seats in May.  The Greens may not win it this time around, but they should continue putting up candidates who will run this time and again in 2015 and who are prepared to serve as councillors.