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.

Advertisements

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.

It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.