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‘Outrageous’ to oust councillor over views
I have never met Brighton and Hove city councillor Christina Summers and doubt if we would get along very well.
She is a devout Christian and I am not. We would disagree on all sorts of fundamental issues.
That doesn’t matter much because I am an independent reporter and columnist used to having all sorts of abuse hurled at me because of my views.
I’ve received death threats and once even had to face a demonstration outside The Argus offices by incensed residents.
The views of Christina Summers matter much more because she was elected for Hollingdean and Stanmer ward as a Green councillor.
She did well to win a seat in an area that for many years has been dominated by the Labour Party.
But now she has fallen foul of the Greens because of her strongly held opinion on gay weddings. She was the only councillor to vote against a motion calling on the authority to lobby the Government to allow same sex marriage.
After an internal inquiry, the local Green Party has decided she is to be expelled from the council’s ruling group for breaching an agreement to “uphold and advance the values of equality for all people”.
This decision has been made by a party which does not impose a whip on councillors.
It purports to offer freedom of expression to its elected representatives but only when they agree with what it says.
Coun Summers believes in equality for gays and has supported same sex civil partnerships. But as a Christian she cannot back gay marriage because it should be a union between a man and a woman.
If ever there was a matter of conscience, this is a prime example. It is not even an issue over which the council has any control.
This is an outrageous decision.
The Greens believe so passionately that they are right that they cannot tolerate the slightest sign of dissent.
If this decision is upheld, Coun Summers will have the opportunity to cause a great deal of trouble as an independent by pointing out inconsistencies among her former colleagues.
She could cause even more mayhem by resigning and forcing a by-election which Labour would almost certainly win – unless she stood as an independent.
The electorate has an inconvenient habit of backing councillors when they have had bust ups with their parties.
Victor Nicholls, the rumbustious wartime Mayor of Brighton, fell out with his fellow Tories several times but was voted in as an independent before a truce was declared.
Danny Sheldon, who died 30 years ago this year, had resounding electoral triumphs as an independent after being booted out by the Conservatives.
Incidentally, Coun Sheldon was passionately against Communists but he always voted to allow them to hold rallies at the Dome because he believed even more in freedom of speech.
Labour has not always been tolerant to its own mavericks but it showed admirable restraint in the case of Dennis Hobden, the first Socialist MP in Sussex.
The MP for Kemp Town advocated closer links with the Soviet Union which didn’t exactly endear him to the right wingers in the party.
He was a spiritualist and a freemason, two unusual stances to hold for a Socialist. But I never heard any criticisms of him for this.
Dennis Hobden was also left free to advocate his often curious views on matters of conscience even when they were not strictly party policy. His colleagues on all sides of the council chamber and at Westminster realised he was talented, committed and sincere.
Many voters in Brighton put the Greens in charge of the council because they thought they would be a breath of fresh air.
But this decision over Christina Summers stinks. It will put off thousands of electors from voting for them again. Even those who found them naïve but nice may now consider them inflexible and intolerant.
I disagree with Christina Summers profoundly on gay marriage. But she has the right to state her views on a clear issue of conscience without being expelled.