Dawn Barnett has been cancelled as Mayor of Brighton & Hove.
A working class woman of eighty, who has worked hard all her life and, since
election as a Conservative councillor, has represented her constituents faithfully and well, has been rejected by her Green and Labour colleagues. Against all precedent they have refused to accept her nomination for this non-political role, wielding the knife in the most brutal of fashions.
Her opposition colleagues knew she had been nominated by the Conservative group. They knew she had to step in to take the place of her close friend Cllr Mary Mears, who is seriously ill and therefore unable to take up the role. They did not speak to Cllr Barnett. Instead, as her friend lay stricken, they allowed her to be fitted for the mayoral robes and plan which charities to support, plotting all the while to surprise her on mayor-making day, humiliating her in front of her family and friends.
Had it not been for the refusal to co-operate of a few principled individuals, this awful plan would have gone ahead. Nonetheless, Cllr Barnett will still be opposed and therefore cannot serve as Mayor. Given her age, she is unlikely to have the chance again. The decision is extraordinary, not least because the Labour group initially planned to support her nomination and then were somehow persuaded to change their minds.
I often disagree with Cllr Barnett. She is a political ‘street fighter’, blunt and provocative, often very funny, and always forthright about what she thinks. Her ability to needle opponents and ridicule political pomposity and self-righteousness is second to none. That and the respect she shows her constituents, is why she remains hugely popular.
She has from time to time said things I find offensive, but no more so than the occasional bigotries expressed by some of her Labour and Green colleagues. The difference is that the offensiveness of those individuals is couched in the language of a progressive, university- educated elite, which doffs its cap to diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance, while intolerantly excluding, and sometimes grossly insulting, those who do not fit its priorities, for example because of their class, or age or sex. Graduates now dominate the cultural and political life of this city and are far too ready to berate those who do not share their worldview.
I am very conscious that when I moved to Brighton as a student incomer – in common with thousands of others who preceded and followed me – I benefited from a university education paid for by the labour and taxes of local residents who often did not receive the same benefits. Cllr Barnett is one such person and as such deserves gratitude, not insults.
It is important to have robust debate and to challenge views with which we do not agree, but the mayoralty is non-political. It might perhaps have been in order for the Chief Executive to discreetly remind the Mayor Elect to avoid provocative remarks in her year of office. He should probably do so with all candidates. I am sure Cllr Barnett would have understood that as well as any other.
It demeans the council to bar a working class, older woman from office. There have been many mayors, some recent, whose views and actions did not bear much scrutiny. I know of none who have been rejected or removed from office.
I appeal to councillors to reconsider their decision and to remember the wise old saying that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.