Bonfire bigotry lives on in Sussex – it’s time we took a stand

Posted On 04 Nov 2021 at 2:22 pm

At a council meeting on Thursday 21 October, I put a question to Brighton and Hove’s Green administration asking them to condemn the continued practice of burning catholic effigies, displaying anti catholic slogans and other religious bigotry openly tolerated at Lewes and other bonfire events.

I called on them to pressure Sussex Police and neighbouring authorities to end such practices of religious hate that intersperse otherwise wonderfully unique events.

I was heartened by the positive response from Councillor Phélim MacCafferty who agreed to issue a statement reiterating our commitment to equality and opposing sectarian symbolism at the parades.

Both Sussex Police and Lewes District Council have a statutory duty to address religious discrimination and yet seem blind, or rather turn a blind eye, to such unacceptable displays – a cultural residue of an unpleasant historical sectarianism that once spread fear and hatred in the county.

I have asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate and have demanded action by the largely absent Conservative police and crime commissioner.

Sussex bonfire events are magnificent. They are hugely enjoyable, and residents should be able to attend without being faced with cries of ‘no popery’ and ‘burn the Pope’.

While I am certain that most participants of these events are not bigoted in the slightest and
probably give little thought to the matter, the displays feed into a deep-rooted suspicion of the
catholic community that periodically raises its ugly head in England and remains an ever-present danger in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.

I am sure that some will respond with the age-old defence of the bigot, ‘it’s only a bit of fun’.

Others will no doubt claim that we must tolerate the right to offend.

Of course we should, but calling for the burning of the man, central to the catholic faith and chanting ‘no papists here’ is not an expression of a view, or even the legitimate right to offend. It is violent and exclusionary language in a public place.

We would condemn public displays of anti-Islamic or antisemitic slogans and the burning of related effigies and rightly so. Such behaviour would violate our sense of decency and commitment to tolerance and inclusion.

Yet why is it still deemed fair game to chant ‘burn him’ at effigies of Pope Francis and priests?

It is time Sussex Police and our neighbouring local authorities took decisive action to exclude and prevent such discriminatory conduct from family events and apply the law as it was intended.

Let’s enjoy our magnificent displays and partake in the fun without the sinister and exclusionary remnants of sectarian hate. Our diverse and tolerant ceremonial county deserve nothing less.

Councillor Nick Childs is a Labour member of the Tourism, Equalities and Communities Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Gary Gibbon Reply

    Perhaps this idiot councillor should check the history behind the bonfire before he starts trying to cancel it.

  2. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    I don’t actually think that matters in Lewes are within his remit anyway and he should concentrate on the job he was elected to do – in B&H.

  3. Greens Out Reply

    What a woke plonker

    Stick to matters that concern you, Councillor.


  4. Chaz. Reply

    Another nutjob Councillor in B&H.
    Your role is to ensure the council does its job despite angling for a Greenie like.
    No more bin strikes, clean up the graffiti, enforce existing laws in place, stop the druggies and drunks from living in doorways etc.
    It is not difficult. If you want to focus on a bonfire in Lewes you are in the wrong job.
    Resign and try to get elected there.

  5. Jonathan Baker Reply

    So we should just blithely accept an institution that covered up the widespread rape and pedophilia of it’s flock over decades and centuries? That amassed enough wealth to become it’s own city-state while it’s citizens starved? Okay then.

  6. Cllr Nick Childs Reply

    I wonder if the fact that I’ve been called a plonker, nut job, idiot and told to resign for speaking out about sectarian and religious hate speech on this website confirms the point I am making that anti Catholicism is alive an well in the County?

    • Won’t be Druv Reply


      Just means you are all of the above.

    • remember, remember, the 5th of November, Reply

      You have got absolutely no idea what you are talking about, why not concentrate on the issues within the city that you were elected to represent, and stop making completely false assumptions on matters that you clearly have no understanding.

    • Teresa Luetchford Reply

      Yes I think it does and well done on you for speaking out on this. I’m not local but that doesn’t matter – this hate would not be tolerated (thank goodness) against other religious groups so should be stopped here.

      • Gary Gibbon Reply

        Nurse, she’s here.

    • Henry VIII's left shoe Reply

      You are speaking out against sectarian and religious hate speech that doesnt exist. I’m speaking out against unicorn shoplifters and making as much sense as you. Go read a book, enlighten yourself on our history and the traditions of bonfire then go do something useful instead of making a name for yourself poking your neb in where it doesnt belong.

    • Jack Williams Reply

      Nick Childs – you’re comments are offensive and simply wrong. You clearly have no understanding of Lewes Bonfire. I would advise you to apologise for the distress you’ve caused. Yes, I am a Catholic.Please never come to Lewes

    • Dexter Reply

      The Pope that is burnt is Pope Paul V who was Pope in 1605, at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. There are many catholics that are involved in Bonfire, and indeed even the Catholic priest in Lewes has embraced the tradition, knowing full well it is based in history, not current times.

    • Robert Draper Reply

      Best to keep your collectivist faux moral philosophy to yourself, it’ll gain no traction in Lewes, or indeed East Sussex. You simply cannot help yourself but to try and interfere in matters that you care not to try and understand and which in any event are well beyond the remit of your office. You advocate that the police ‘take action’ to snuff out Sussex bonfire culture or otherwise effect its watering down to the point where it becomes pointless, bland and unbearable. I’ve left it to other commentators to explain the relevance of Paul V at Lewes, but I note you also refer to ‘other bonfire events’, in which no such references feature at all, and never have. It is yet another attack on our culture, which is what you are really taking aim at and which you clearly abhor, but possess not the courage to be honest about it.

    • Justin Reply

      What nonsense. I’ve just checked the rest of my Catholic family and I’m happy to confirm no one felt threatened by Lewes bonfire society this year. Phew. The world will be such a joyless, dour place if you ever gain real power.

      • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

        No chance of him ever having any real power, Justin. He’s put his foot in his dubious credentials so often that he has descended to the level of an ordinary councillor. As far as I can tell, the only thing he’s ever said that was right is his description of the proposed Marina development (now rejected) as a ‘Poundshop Dubai’, which it was.

    • Harry McHarry Reply

      Clearly you were supposed to ignore the question or throw the questioner on a bonfire, anything else is would be out of your remit.

  7. Martha Gunn Reply

    Oh no Cllr Childs.
    Rest assured that some would think there are plenty of reasons to call you a ‘plonker’ and ‘nut job’ without resorting to any sort of confessional identity prejudice.

    • Mike Beasley Reply

      You forgot ‘hypocrite’

  8. Mike Beasley Reply

    Oh dear ! Thankfuly Cllr Childish has been quiet for a while since the Roedean expose and his BLM outbursts. Probably better to keep yer gob firmly shut , Nick ! As regards religious hate : didn’t the good councillor have to swiftly delete a few tweets on social media as they were a tad anti-semitic ?

  9. Tim Reply

    I love that we live in a country where we are free to critisise things such as religion. Many in the Middle East wish that had similar freedoms.

  10. Jean Reply

    It’s a shame there are a few people who play the player rather than the ball. Commenters on this website are usually better. The point is worthy of sensible debate.

    • Won't be Druv Reply

      No. It really is not.

    • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

      Unfortunately, the basic point about the councillor’s opinion piece has got lost. The subject is worthy of sensible debate, but perhaps not in this forum by someone who can get an opinion piece published because he’s a councillor and sounds off on nil evidence that the issue has anything at all to do with Brighton & Hove. This website is a B&H forum.

      All the opinion piece really amounts to is a diatribe against Lewes Bonfire, and he may well have a point about that, but it is a matter for Lewes authorities, Sussex Police and the Police and & Crime Commissioner, not B&H Council issuing one of their right-on hollow statements about equalities, discrimination, non-nuclear zone and all that, which many of us are pretty sick of, and what we actually care about most is the delivery of proper basic council services, which we are not getting. The councillor offers zero evidence about anti-Catholicism in Sussex generally or in B&H specifically, so, until he does, he deserves all the flak he gets.

      • a bonfire boy Reply

        The councillors remarks fall at the first hurdle. If he wants to stimulate debate, start off with an issue that exists not lewes Bonfire as it has no modern anti catholic fervour, simply the continuation of portrayal of events that took place and indeed were enshrined in english law for over 200 years, he is simply attempting to deflect from the abysmal situation in the city of which he is a councillor. the street of Lewes will be spotless less than 6 hours after the event has finished, but then LDC have a great team, never out on strike, the good councillor could learn a lot if he cared to observe.

  11. Matt Hillman Reply

    Maybe do something worth while like ban firework sales to the public, Also make fireworks less noisy.
    They destroy our wildlife and as the U.K. has lost 47% of it we should be doing more to protect it.
    At Lewes the insults are aimed at one pope not the whole catholic community. Do a bit of research on the history of Lewes.

    • Lewes and Brighton person! Reply

      Good points!

  12. J Packham Reply

    It’s all done in the nicest possible taste.councillor

  13. Charles Obscure Reply

    Sounds like a desperate attempt by cllr Childs to prove his woke credentials and look cool. Just get on with the job you were elected to do. Hopefully, you will be replaced by a sensible Labour candidate in 2023 and the city can be rid of Momentum fruitcakes

  14. Father Nick Flint Reply

    I’m a third generation Lewes Bonfire Boy and Anglo Catholic priest. No effigy of the current Holy Father is ever burned. Today’s ‘Popes’ are those figures, not necessarily with a religious affiliation, but those who take THEMSELVES far too seriously. The Bonfire tradition is literally a SEND UP, an invitation to LIGHTEN UP, surely, in a safe environment in which others are not harmed.

    • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

      Thank you, Father Nick Flint, for injecting some sense into this. We all know, and have known for many years, what Lewes Bonfire is like. They burn satirical effigies of all sorts of people – politicians mostly – and why not. No worse than ‘Spitting Image’. However, it is all over the next day and we all return to normality – or the grim ‘normality’ that is B&H, which is what this councillor should be most concerned with.

      But he isn’t – just sounding off almost hysterically about one passing issue that has nothing to do with B&H, unless he cares to present some evidence of anti-Catholicism in B&H, which he hasn’t done so far. Sad man.

    • Tony Harper Reply

      So… Cllr Childs.. Having established that you are hopelessly out of your depth and don’t have a clue what you,’re on about, would you like to retract your childish comments? Stick with trying to sort out the disaster that Momentum/the Greens have created in Brighton.

      • Peter A Reply

        So….I wonder who’s going to be nominated as an ‘Enemy of Bonfire’ next year? Should be a good tableau!

  15. Newell Fisher Reply

    As a socialist atheist Bonfire Boy, who dresses up as a catholic monk every Fifth as a way of honouring our local history, I recommend the councillor checks his facts and reflects on the meaning of ‘misrule’.

    Our traditions should not be subjected to passing attacks designed to serve the passing sensitivities of any particular time. We mark the realities of the past and burn the idiots of the present in effigy.

    This is why people in positions of power do not like Bonfire.

  16. Sarah Bevan Reply

    When you listen to this councillor, you begin to understand why BHCC is such a disaster

  17. Cliffe Richard Reply

    Cllr Childs . it appears you are monitoring the comments, as you have made one yourself. Would you now like to defend what you said in the original article? If not; please can apologise unreservedly for your incorrect statements

  18. Jenny Mulligan Reply

    Perhaps if Cllr Nick Childs actually came from Sussex, he’d understand the history behind the Bonfire societies.

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