A LONG-SERVING councillor who was expected to become the next mayor has been ousted just weeks before a planned inauguration ceremony.

Councillor Dawn Barnett was due to become Mayor of Brighton and Hove at the end of the month as a substitute for Cllr Mary Mears, who is no longer able to take on the role due to ill health.

However, councillors from the Green Party and Labour have indicated they will not back her nomination over concerns over previous statements made by Cllr Barnett.

Cllr Barnett, who represents the Hangleton and Knoll ward, said that she had been in the process of being fitted for mayoral robes when she heard the news and explained that the two parties planned to vote down her nomination at a mayoral inauguration ceremony.

She said: “The poor mayoral office had worked hard to get Cllr Mears’ stuff sorted and then they had to sort it all out for me, and now this comes up.

“If this hadn’t leaked, they would have embarrassed 150 guests, my family, and the Pavilion where the reception would have been - they had no consideration for them at all.”

Parties playing 'silly games'

The Argus understands that most Labour councillors had, at first, backed Cllr Barnett’s mayoral nomination but that their position shifted after a party meeting.

Cllr Barnett said that no one from either party had raised their concerns with her or the Conservatives about her nomination and accused the Greens and Labour of hypocrisy.

She said: “They’ve got problems in their own parties which they should sort out - instead of playing silly games, they should be worrying about the state of the city.”

Whilst she admitted that she has been taken to the council’s standards board over comments she has made in the past, she said she was found not to have breached any rules.

Despite the news that she will no longer represent the city as mayor, she said that she is “not that bothered” about holding the prestigious title, and said she felt some hesitancy at taking up the position in Cllr Mears’ place.

She said: “I was offered the mayoralty because of Mary - she should have been mayor.

“I’m quite an emotional person to a point - where it’s someone like Mary, who is ill and was so looking forward to being mayor, I felt disloyal to her.

“Although I wouldn’t have been disloyal to her by taking the mayorship, I would have felt uncomfortable to think I was stepping into what should have been her shoes.

“I’ve had a great deal of support from people in my ward, with emails saying ‘at least we’re not going to lose you, as you wouldn’t have had time for us’ - which is true because the Mayor is a busy person.

“My loyalties really lie with my ward, and there would have been a lot of things I wouldn’t have had time for.

“I’m not distraught about it. It would have been nice to see my name on the wall, but I would have been dead by the time it would be there and I wouldn’t have seen it anyway.”

She said that she now has a renewed focus on issues in her ward, as well as retaining her seat at the local elections next year.

Cllr Barnett said: “I work my socks off and I’ve been re-elected every time with a good majority, and I hope to do exactly the same next time.

“This decision [by the Greens and Labour] will haunt them all the way to the ballot box next year - and I shall make sure of that,” Cllr Barnett said.

The three main political parties traditionally take turns in nominating a mayor for the year, with their term serving a largely ceremonial role. The Greens now look set to nominate the next mayor for the city, after previously holding the position in 2019 under Cllr Alex Phillips.

Decision 'morally wrong'

Independent councillor Peter Atkinson, who represents the neighbouring North Portslade ward, described the move to deny Cllr Barnett the mayoralty as “mean-spirited”.

He 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 people 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.”


Deputy leader of the Conservative group Cllr Dee Simson said that the party are "100 per cent supportive" of their nomination of Cllr Barnett.

She said: "Dawn has lived in Brighton and Hove for over 70 years and made a big contribution to the city and been elected five times by her residents in Hangleton and Knoll. She would make a fantastic mayor.

"We are disgusted that the Greens and Labour have acted in this underhanded way, which not only impacts on Cllr Barnett, but also the charities that she was going to support and the Mayor's Office as a whole."

'Concerns about appropriateness'

A spokesman for the Brighton and Hove Labour group said: “Whilst the Labour group were happy to support Cllr Mears as Mayor, and are saddened by her illness and wish her a speedy recovery and return to frontline politics, we had concerns about Cllr Barnett taking on the role.

“As a City of Sanctuary, and a council working towards us becoming an anti-racist city, we were not convinced of the appropriateness of someone with the track record of Cllr Barnett in terms of public statements about ethnic minorities and homeless people being the First Citizen of Brighton and Hove.

“That being said, 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.

“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.”

'Questions over suitability for prominent role'

A spokesman for the Green group said that the party "could not support" Cllr Barnett's nomination after questioning her "suitability" for the role.

“While the Mayor of Brighton & 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 Cllr Barnett’s suitability for this prominent role that is supposed to be about representing all residents in our diverse city. 

“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 Cllr Mary Mears a speedy recovery and hope she is able to take up the role of Mayor in future.”