OPINION

Why our would-be mayor was cancelled

Posted On 07 May 2022 at 12:19 pm

Dawn Barnett has been cancelled as mayor.

Councillor Dawn Barnett

A working class woman of 80, 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 Councillor Mary Mears, who is ill and unable to take up the role.

They did not speak to Councillor 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, Councillor 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, then were somehow persuaded to change their minds.

I often disagree with Councillor 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, despite her indiscretions, 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. Councillor 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 Councillor 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.

Jean Calder is a campaigner and journalist. For more of her work, click here.

  1. Nathan Adler Reply

    Well said Jean, as a Labour supporter I rarely agree with Dawn and hope the party changes its mind and backs the nomination, (or is this the best evidence ever of a Lab/ Green coalition one which many Labour supports struggle to stomach). Cllr Barnett would have to be neutral as mayor so what is the issue? This stinks of elitism, political dogma and down right nastiness of any who planned to block her nomination without telling her.

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    There is a precedent. In 2006 the Conservatives did not vote for Labour’s Ken Bodfish to become Mayor.

    https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/1065219.new-mayor-is-chosen/

    • Nathan Adler Reply

      No Christopher the Greens and Tories abstained and let their intentions be known prior to the meeting. Here the Greens and Labour, (much to my shame), planned to vote AGAINST and had no intention of letting the candidate know. If you think that is acceptable fine, I think it is lower than a snake’s belly and those involved should hang their heads in shame.

      • Christopher Hawtree Reply

        No, it was discussed with Council officers, as such things are. A key point is that Dawn Barnett has never chaired any meeting, and the Mayoral one is complex – especially the Budget meeting. Would the right thing have been to let our towns in for that? Especially when covid’s probable return will mean for use of technology?

        • Phoebe Barerra Reply

          Thanks for the views of a literary obsessed councillor who only stood for 1 term before disappearing to spend his time as a pro-Green keyboard warrior disparaging other parties.

          Perhaps if Christopher had spent as much time and effort supporting his ward, rather than denigrating Dawn for not running a committee.

          • Christopher Hawtree

            Chuffed to savour your take on it all!

        • Ian Reply

          If not chairing council committees is a reason for objecting to a Councillor being Mayor, eventually minority party councillors will lose the ability to stand.

          If the Green / Labour parties want that to be the case, then they need to consider what will happen in due course when political evolution makes them the minority.

  3. Valerie Reply

    What price did Labour exact to persuade that Party to change from support to a pact with the Greens to tell the Tories to think again? What deal did they strike?

    Political Parties are highly transactional with one another. Think again all of you. It is clear the stinkbomb scent of political failure will stick and be used all the way to the local elections next year. The comments on the article and Jean’s voice here could not offer greater proof of how big a blunder this move against Dawn is.

  4. ChrisC Reply

    If the Tories really wanted her as mayor so much then why didn’t they nominate her a couple of years ago instead of Mary Mears?

  5. Jojo Goldsmith Reply

    What a totally disgusting way to treat a senior councilor no matter their political persuasion. Those that assume she could not do the role because because she was not previously a ‘chair’ must have some sort of crystal ball and so can see the future. Greens and Labour councilors that support this must be so proud of themselves. Could this council get any worse?

  6. Andrew Reply

    > I often disagree with Councillor Barnett. She is a political “street fighter”, blunt and provocative, often very funny and always forthright about what she thinks.

    Sounds like we dodged a bullet. I find it staring that in this city we would have an 80 year old conservative for mayor. I’m working class myself and I don’t understand what that has got to do with it. If anything she’s selling out her own. The implications is that left wing people are high minded middle class people. The tories attempting to instigate class war is the real story.

  7. Louise H Reply

    Even better just get rid of the Mayor position and safe council tax payers some money.

  8. Andy Richards Reply

    I don’t get why Greens and Labour would pass up the chance to politically gag Dawn Barnett for the *whole* of an election year……

  9. Chris Reply

    Badly done ! – but just about what I expect from the unholy Green/Labour alliance..

  10. Gareth Reply

    Dawn Barnett is a very devisive figure in Brighton & Hove. She seems to spend most of her time pushing her reactionary/bigoted agenda throught the local media.
    Not the sort of person that we should have as mayor at all.
    I’m not really sure that the council has done anything wrong in this instance.

    • Babhravi Reply

      I’m not a Tory voter and I don’t agree with a lot of the things Dawn Barnett says. She has, however, been elected in Hangleton at five elections at least, in a ward where many voted for Peter Kyle, the Labour MP. In reality, it should be a Labour ward on the Council. I’ve campaigned there for another party.
      The unpalatable truth for the real bigots and reactionaries is Dawn Barnett is elected time and again because she works very hard. She may be plain-speaking, but with three parties on the council, it would be more impressive if the Greens and Labour could show more tolerance and perhaps even humility and were a little less patronising.
      This is a scandal, and it looks like we’re about to have a tainted mayoralty in a rotten borough!

      • Ian Reply

        Agreed, this isn’t just a thumbed nose at Councillor Barnett, but also at Hangleton & Knoll. How dare they not know what’s good for them.

  11. Sick of Brighton Reply

    Whatever you may think about her politics Dawn works hard and for her constituents, unlike her posturing career wannabes who have no life experience.
    As always the working class and real women don’t count and are bullied and belittler by the left elite do gooders.
    FYI I am a black adult human female.

  12. Hove Guy Reply

    The Greens, with the connivance of Labour, have probably not forgiven her for making an important stand against the totally useless and expensive cycle lanes along Old Shoreham Road. As always, they behave despicably.

  13. Clive Reply

    Just after the Conservatives lost power in 2011 to the Greens, there was an incursion by a group of travellers on an open space in Dawn Barnett’s ward. Her reaction was to leaflet the travellers to direct them to Green-held wards. And get the Argus up for a photo shoot.

    This was a really nasty and vindictive political stunt, indicative of a very partisan mindset (and of being a sore loser to boot). So … what goes around, comes around.

    This is an elected post with a major civic profile, for goodness’ sake, not an entitlement that comes with age or length of service. And I am quite sure the Argus will continue to broadcast the thoughts of the senior councillor for Hangleton morning, noon and night. So much for her being ‘cancelled’.

  14. parmer selsei Reply

    as far as i know she has never even had a full time job please prove me wrong

  15. Some Guy Reply

    “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.”

    Given that this is the closest the author came to providing the facts alluded to in the title, all I can really do is infer that Dawn is a racist or a homophobe. Maybe a transphobe, come to think of it.

    Could we have some actual information soon, please?

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