Councillors oust ‘next mayor’ before she can take office

Posted On 06 May 2022 at 6:03 pm

Councillors have ousted a colleague who was expected to become the next mayor of Brighton and Hove in a ceremony in three weeks’ time.

Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett was expected to don the mayoral robes and take over the chains of office from Labour councillor Alan Robins, the outgoing mayor, towards the end of this month.

Councillor Barnett was nominated by her party last month as a late substitute for the mayor-elect Mary Mears, who is currently deputy mayor.

Councillor Mears, 74, a former Conservative leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, had cross-party support but is unable to take on the role for health reasons.

Spacewords Brighton

Initially, most Labour councillors appeared to support Councillor Barnett’s nomination while most Greens were opposed.

But after a behind-the-scenes meeting late last week, the position shifted.

This took place after Councillor Barnett had been fitted for the mayoral robes and had nominated her mayoral charities.

This left some uneasy about the prospect of a political ambush at the ceremonial mayor-making which is due to take place at the Annual Council meeting on Thursday 26 May.

A number of councillors regarded the prospect of an ambush – an unannounced contest – as not in keeping with the dignified and non-partisan nature of the office of mayor.

By convention, the parties take turns nominating a councillor to become mayor for the municipal year, with the term of office for the largely ceremonial role usually starting each May.

When it became clear that Councillor Mears would be unable to take over, the Conservatives proposed Councillor Barnett.

Some members of the other two parties were unhappy that the Conservatives did not confer with them before announcing their nomination.

The Greens said: “We question Councillor Barnett’s suitability for this prominent role.”

Councillor Barnett said that her political rivals didn’t like her outspokenness – or what she said on a number of issues that divide the parties.

She said: “I’ve always spoken my mind and I know that not everyone likes that but I speak as I find.

“I’ve been told this is what the Greens don’t like – I’m quite outspoken. They don’t like what I’ve got to say.”

Councillor Dawn Barnett

Councillor Barnett said that she accepted that she would have had to have been politically neutral in the role of mayor and added: “Being mayor, of course you haven’t got an opinion. Everyone who takes on the role knows that.”

But she criticised the way that the process had been handled since her nomination was announced, saying: “None of the other parties has had the courage or the decency or the courtesy to talk to me about this.”

She also said: “I’d like to know what I’m supposed to have said.”

If councillors were unhappy with what she had said or with her conduct, they were entitled to make a “standards” complaint.

But she added, she had not been found to have breached equalities rules when a standards complaint was made many years ago.

Councillor Mary Mears

Councillor Barnett said: “Labour has a nerve when you think what it took for them to start sorting out the anti-semitism in the party.

“Some of the councillors who were Labour when they were elected are now Independents. And another one of the Independents left Labour because of the poor way they were handling it.

“As for the Greens, they want to get their own house in order first before they start criticising others.

“One good thing is I’ll have more time for my ward. It’s what I was elected for. I will carry on working hard for the residents of my ward.”

Councillor Barnett has represented Hangleton and Knoll ward since she was first elected at a by-election in 2004.

Although she turns 81 next month, she said that the whole episode had made her more determined to serve the residents of her ward along with fellow Conservative councillor Nick Lewry and prospective candidate Tim Hodges.

The current mayor of Brighton and Hove Councillor Alan Robins

Councillor Barnett said: “There’s three of us – and all three of us are determined to hold on to the ward in May next year. We’re a team.”

The Greens said: “The Green group of councillors agreed we could not support the nomination of Councillor Dawn Barnett as mayor, following news that Councillor Mary Mears sadly could not take up the role as planned.

“We requested that Conservative councillors reconsider their nomination and provide another candidate.

“While the mayor of Brighton and Hove has no decision-making powers, they have an important role as first citizen of the city.

“As such, they represent the values of the city, especially at important community events.

“We question Councillor Barnett’s suitability for this prominent role that is supposed to be about representing all residents in our diverse city.

Councillor Lizzie Deane

“We now understand that the Conservative group wishes to make no nomination and therefore a further candidate will need to be proposed.

“We will work collaboratively with all groups to ensure that there is a new mayoral candidate who can be supported by all councillors.

“We wish Councillor Mary Mears a speedy recovery and hope she is able to take up the role of mayor in future.”

The Greens are expected to nominate Councillor Lizzie Deane to be mayor. She is currently the deputy mayor-elect.

Labour said: “While the Labour group were happy to support Councillor Mears as mayor, and are saddened by her illness and wish her a speedy recovery and return to frontline politics, we had concerns about Councillor Barnett taking on the role.

“We hoped to resolve this issue privately, without any embarrassment to any individuals involved, so it is a shame this was leaked to the press.

Councillor Peter Atkinson

“We approached the Conservatives and asked if they’d be willing to put up an alternative candidate that may be better suited to serving as the first citizen of our tolerant and diverse city.

“They decided that instead of putting up a different candidate, they would prefer to step aside and offer the mayoralty to the Greens in 2022 and Labour in 2023.

“We found this agreeable, and wish the best of luck to all our future mayors.”

Independent councillor Peter Atkinson, who represents the neighbouring North Portslade ward, said: “While I would probably disagree with Dawn on almost everything politically, she has been a great servant to her local residents and is one of the longest-serving councillors in the city.

“She didn’t gain the support of residents in Hangleton by accident and is one of the hardest working councillors I know.

“The position of mayor is apolitical and ceremonial – and Dawn understands that. I think it’s mean-spirited and morally wrong to deny her this opportunity on political grounds.”

What does the mayor do?

The mayor chairs meetings of the full council and formally represents the council at various public, civic and ceremonial events in and outside the city and welcomes important visitors and dignitaries.

He or she also works actively with a wide range of local organisations and promotes the city of Brighton and Hove at home and abroad.

The mayor attends about 600 engagements throughout the year. These include

  • religious events of all denominations
  • events in support of local charities and community groups
  • welcoming new businesses to the city
  • visiting schools, day centres, hospitals and care homes
  • opening fairs and fetes and attending prize-givings
  • speaking at dinners and receptions
  • greeting local, national and international guests
  1. David Haskell Reply

    Cllr Barnett pretty much shows how unsuitable she would have been in her comments following the aftermath of her mayorship falling through. I think Cllr Peltzer-Dunn would be a good choice.

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    A key point, not mentioned in the article, is that cllr Barnett has never chaired any sort of meeting. How on earth would she have coped with the complexities of the Budget Council where millions of pounds are under discussion?

    • Valerie Reply

      Officers are there to give cllrs their script bullet points & rescue stallings…as for alll cllr roles. What exactly do objectors believe Dawn unable to do?

      Putin scoffs at Ukraine being allowed to remain as a potential EU/NATO member, to be credited with being a country so he invaded & seeks demolition & depopulation to make it unviable.

      This anti Dawn coup has not disimilar motivation

      • Christopher Hawtree Reply

        It sounds as though more details will be revealed at the Mayor-making meeting later this month.

      • Martha Gunn Reply

        “Valerie” has abandoned all reasonable judgement.
        This comparison is beyond demented.
        And is downright offensive given the circumstances in Ukraine.

        • Valerie Reply

          Let me clarify for you to save your blood pressure.

          Putin is ‘cancelling’ Ukraine (trying to). The Greens & Labour have ganged up qto ‘cancel’ Dawn Barnett. It is a ‘woke’ move.

          But maybe it is also a political jostle ahead of next year’s local election. Each political party must want their person to be Mayor in the run up to the local elections. It is great PR and looks good on the leaflets.

          • Car Delenda Est

            “Putin is ‘cancelling’ Ukraine (trying to). The Greens & Labour have ganged up qto ‘cancel’ Dawn Barnett. It is a ‘woke’ move.”

            Sounds pretty mental tbh

  3. Hove Guy Reply

    Dawn Barnett speaks the truth about the continuous dreadful mess caused by the Greens and Labour, and they cannot bear it. No wonder they go out of their way to prevent her from becoming mayor.

    • Valerie Reply

      Every political party is accused by every other political party of abject failure & it is a tired old trope trotted oout ENDLESSLY. No politician is innocent on that point. So its not a reason to stop her being Mayor.

      Brighton & Hove have THEIR local elections next year and whoever is Mayor this coming Mayormaking will be in a good position to help make their Party look good in a very public way. I suspect all the political parties would like one of their own to be Mayor in the run up to an election year.

    • L Reply

      Quite agree! The thought of the Greens getting the role again makes me feel sick! They are the worst possible party.
      Dawn has worked so hard all these years and has done more for Hove than all the Greens put together!!

  4. Adam Campbell Reply

    To be honest, Dawn is well off out of it. Keeping schtum when you can see the blatant mess the greens and Labour have made of the city might have been difficult for her. Speaking truth to woke has always been her thing and long may she continue to do so. Have the yellow bus duo paid their child care costs back yet?

  5. Jon Reply

    I generally vote for the Greens but this is petty. It was also an opportunity to show whether Dawn Barnett could engage with opposing opinions in the City instead of complaining in The Argus. The Greens believe they’re the most diverse and accepting people and they’re excluding someone because they’re not diverse enough 🙂

  6. Mike Beasley Reply

    Poor Dawn. Just not woke enough!

  7. roy pennington Reply

    beyond churlishness // The “behind the scenes” nastiness against Dawn Barnett is worthy of Easter Panto \\ or is it veiled unconscious racism on account of her Romany-Italian heritage?

    • Valerie Reply

      Oh! Touché Roy! Touché!
      Dawn is the darling of Hangleton voters and has been for a long time. As Mayor she would be quite at ease in the robes in my view & would chat easily with residents and at functions making friends for the Ceremonial Mayoralty that certain political folk wish to abolish.

  8. Nathan Adler Reply

    I really cannot agree with 99% of Cllr Barnett’s views but two things are undisputed she is a great ward councilor and has been in Brighton and Hove for most of her life. This is pure nastiness from the Greens and I cannot understand why they feel the need to do it, (or why Labour feel the need to prop them up). Ironically the Tories are usually considered the nasty party.

  9. Subatomic Kitten Reply

    Really goes to show what nice people the Green and Momentum councillors are!

  10. Ste Reply

    As the comments complaining about ‘wokeism’ might suggest, the problem that the article doesn’t mention is her repeated embarrassing of them city multiple racist comments, transphobia, uninformed opinions about food bank users, and her suggestion that we should use pressure washers on our homeless population. She absolutely is not suited to represent our city and the reasons are not a matter of politics, but a matter of personal qualities such as downright bigotry. But that’s what people who complain about ‘woke’ people and ‘cancel culture’ are really defending with their thinly veiled dog-whistles.

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