Highlighting the commitment of Mike Weatherley MP to the people of Brighton Pavilion

From time to time my Labour and Green friends say to me: “You know what, Bappy, you hardly ever comment of the local Conservatives. Are you sure you are not a closet Tory by any chance?” If the truth be told, the answer is …. no.

So I thought I would reflect today on the work of Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. (Shurley shum mishtake – Ed).

Now, a great myth of our time is that Mike is MP for Hove, something the Argus has consistently reported. Now there is evidence to support my claim. I had a look at the website of The People’s Mike and carried out a forensic analysis of the press releases he has put out for the two months of June and July. I looked at how many related to Hove, and how many to Brighton Pavilion.

Of the 41 press releases, just 5 were directly about Hove (travellers in Hangleton, a local restaurant being commended in a House of Commons curry competition, the Olympic torch visiting Hove, opposing development at Toad’s Hole Valley, and a petition to do with Medina House).

There were four other press releases that indirectly related to Hove (experience of commuters at Victoria Station, warning about a Council Tax scam, a call for better maps at bus stops, and a parliamentary motion supporting local shops). But each of these equally applies to Brighton Pavilion.

And then there is his fascination of all things Brighton Pavilion. He has put our 8 press releases about Brighton Pavilion – 60% more than those put out about Hove. He talks about the Brighton Toy Museum, travellers at Horsdean (Patcham), Jubilee protests in central Brighton, the Horsdean travellers site (again), a trip to Brighton Museum, Portas Money for London Road, the eviction of squatters in Middle Street, and a government initiative supporting Malpass Meats Direct (and the Big Lemon in Brighton Kemptown).

The remaining 28 press releases either have nothing directly to do with Hove (or Brighton Pavilion). So move over, Caroline Lucas, and stop pretending that you are the duly elected representative of the people of Brighton Pavilion.

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Reflecting on the actions and comments of Francis Maude, Ben Duncan and Dawn Barnett

This week I reflect on three politicians who have captured the headlines for words and actions.

The first is Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Member and MP for Horsham, who encouraged people to store spare petrol supplies in their garage. Other than the danger associated with storing a highly flammable material, it showed how out of touch he is with ordinary people. Just 22% of households have garages. His comments were part of a truly pathetic attempt by the Conservatives to create a diversion to Pasty-gate, the Granny Tax, and other failures from the budget, not least the tax give away to the rich.

Tragically and inevitably someone has got seriously hurt. Maude should resign and Cameron should apologise for his comments and those of his government colleagues over the ‘fuel crisis’.

The second politician is local Green councillor, Ben Duncan, over his four-letter outburst about pasties. Today he has apologised after he realised that local baker, Forfars, which has a shop in his ward, is set to lose £250,000 because of the new tax on pasties and pies.

Ben Duncan said he was just joking: “I’m amazed anyone took my comment seriously and do apologise if it caused any offence. It was a joke that was responding to the news because it’s not the only thing going on in the world. The point I was trying to make was that the debate about pasties is distracting from larger issues.

“Clearly I sympathise with any business that is suffering from the appallingly unfair budget. I would love to go and visit the bakery and sample some of their vegan goods.”

But Ben Duncan is inviting ‘open season’ on himself with a further ill-advised tweet quoted by today’s Argus: “You’ve got to be so careful on Twitter – scumbag journos are watching your every move!”

Even Christopher Hawtree distanced himself from Ben Duncan’s unguarded comments, saying that Ben Duncan is “the Green’s Prince Philip”.

It is said that in politics, worse than being accused of incompetence, is to be ridiculed. I think that councillor Hawtree has just ridiculed his Green colleague.

My third and final comment relates to Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett. Police had to ask her to leave a site in her ward and next to where she lives where an unofficial travellers camp has been set up. Police advised her to go home for her own safety.

It may come as surprise to my three regular readers, Biker Dave, Momma Grizzly and Doris, as well as to my latest follower, the Enigmatic Flo, that I will continue to defend councillor Barnett, although I have fundamental differences with her on the issue of travellers.

I don’t know whether councillor Barnett was doing anything to provoke a breach of the peace. I believe that councillors must be able to go about their business without hindrance, particularly in the ward they represent. If councillor Barnett’s safety was at risk, the police must put in place measures to protect her.

She should be allowed to visit the site of the travellers and her well being must be safeguarded. If she was to commit an offence (and I doubt she would) then the police should take action against her. Her mere presence is not cause to ask her to go home.

Perhaps councillor Duncan, as the Cabinet Member for Public Protection, will use his good offices to ensure that a fellow councillor can go freely about her business .

Brighton Politics Blogger to stand as a Conservative candidate in 2015

Brighton Pavilion and Hove Conservatives are seeking candidates for the 2015 City Council elections – and you do not have to be a Party member already

Its website says that “In a bold new move the Conservatives in Brighton Pavilion and Hove have opened up their selection process for the first time to any member of the local community who wants to serve their neighbours by becoming a Councillor. No longer will selection be restricted to those who are already Party members.”

Councillor Andrew Wealls, who led a review of candidate selection, said: “We would like to hear from anyone who wants to work for the local community to ensure the Council better serves local residents and businesses. Of course we would expect them to be broadly sympathetic to Conservative values but the most important consideration is a determination to make life better for all residents, whether by ensuring council tax bills are reduced or delivering council services more effectively.”

In the spirit of the New Conservative Party, I have decided to put my name forward. While I have some difficulties with certain Conservative ‘values’, I am pleased that “the most important consideration is a determination to make life better for all residents”.

I want to make life better for residents, but which residents? Which seat will they let me stand in? Obviously there is a determination by the New Conservatives to make life better for this Blogger, and so will certainly allow me to stand in a safe seat. That rules out all seats in the current Brighton Pavilion constituency, even Withdean and Patcham wards.

So what sort of policies should I stand on? I am a conservative kind of person. I want to conserve socialist values in the Labour Party, a battle that is sadly being lost. I want low Council Tax rises, say 3.5%, in order to avoid bigger cuts last year, and on this issue I can foresee a Phillips-Blogger coalition at next year’s Budget Meeting. The modern Tory Party is committed to creating coalitions to replace the one with the doomed Lib Dems.

So here are some of my ideas for the Blogger’s Conservative manifesto:

  • The mandatory wearing of ties sporting the stars and stripes by all male Conservative councillors at all times;
  • All Tory councillors must abide by the Hyde Rule – having been born within a two mile radius of Brighton Town Hall (to hell with inbreeding, councillor Ania Kitcat);
  • Leading the annual Pride March around Hangleton – pride that the ward is the most anti-traveller ward in the City; and
  • Unlimited extensions for speeches by councillors Janio and Hawtree at all council meetings with tickets for the public gallery being sold to the highest bidders.

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.

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.

Lynda Hyde’s ‘jokes’ no laughing matter

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.