Was councillor the victim of institutional bullying?

‘Brutish, bullying and intimidating’ is how borough councillor John Rankin has described attacks made on him at a council meeting on Wednesday night while his group leader says it felt like ‘institutional bullying’.

Mr Rankin has written to the council’s senior management and senior elected councillors telling them he is reserving the right to seek legal advice on what he describes as, “this unfortunate incident.”

John Rankin

Mr Rankin, the Conservative member for the Conquest ward had explained to members of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) that he was not in favour of proposals to extend use of virtual meetings saying he believed it did not serve democracy.

Mr Rankin had told councillors he believed there was a need for face to face meetings and for councillors to be able to speak to each other informally before and after meetings and that wasn’t happening while councillors logged in to virtual meetings at home.

After listening to Mr Rankin’s comments HBC’s outgoing Deputy Leader Colin Fitzgerald told the meeting: “I would be less concerned about diversity too if I was a millionaire landlord and owned my own road but unfortunately I know a lot of people in this chamber who do not have that luxury.”

Mr Fitzgerald said the proposals were about improving flexibility which he hoped might create a, “better range of councillors, so we are not all sitting here like some old boys club.”

Cabinet member, Councillor Andrew Batsford said he could not believe what he was hearing, ‘in this day and age.’

Colin Fitzgerald

He said he could not believe that on the day when national the Labour party has called for an investigation in to what he described as ‘cronyism’ that Mr Rankin was suggesting that councillors should have as h put it: “side conversations, away from the cameras and away from the general public’s view… my goodness this is dodgy ground indeed.

“Why don’t you just bring back the cigars and the bottle of whisky on the side to make those dodgy deals as well?”

He described the new leadership of the Conservative group of, “smashing through equalities and equal opportunities… .”

“What are we scared of?” Mr Batsford asked.

Councillor Paul Barnett said: “To have the new leadership of the Conservative group talk about why this is not a democratic issue means we’re back in the stoneage.

“Women are telling us that it is up to men to make the change and I would like to think that the seven out of eight men on the opposition group might start listening to the women in this town.”

Andy Batsford

New Conservative group leader Councillor Andy Patmore has written to formally complain, telling HBC leader Kim Forward: “…it is not appropriate in any chamber to make unfounded, speculative comments about an individual councillor’s personal financial situation.

“I have no desire to know the personal financial situation of any councillor, it has no bearing on council business whatsoever. Should we open a debate in full council as to who is in debt or who is doing well in life?

“The whole debate in the end felt like institutional bullying. It is precisely this type of behaviour and intimidation that is putting off many prospective councillors from coming forward, not the fact that we must turn up for meetings in the town hall in person.

“This type of behaviour reflects very poorly on HBC and with the general public and is unbecoming of people elected to public office.”

On Thursday Mr Rankin wrote to Ms Forward as well as to HBC’s Managing Director Jane Hartnell and Chief Legal Officer Mary Kilner, he told them: “I was extremely disappointed at the personal attacks made on me at full council from Councillors Fitzgerald, Batsford and Barnett. I made two points which I feel were legitimate – virtual meetings do not in my opinion lead to a more diverse council and also lessen the opportunity for cross party collaboration. 

Andy Patmore

“I also added to these points that I was surprised Councillor Fitzgerald in his previous statement castigated Conservatives for financial cuts and then encouraged us to back the town deal which is a Conservative funding initiative – this seemed to upset him – but instead of engaging in a political debate on the matter (he) attacked me for being a ‘millionaire landlord who owns a road in the town’. 

“Councillor Batsford accused me of seeking to have side conversations with other councillors and officers during face to face meetings, referring I imagine to the recent controversy of Conservative lobbying in Westminster, – as a way to seek pecuniary gain.

“Councillor Barnett accused me of denying equalities and of being sexist. 

“There were other less insulting comments, however the three I have outlined above reflect badly on HBC and The Labour Party and are the very reverse of a progressive, tolerant and inclusive organisation – more akin to a brutish, bullying and intimidating  one.

“Suffice it to say that these types of comments are not only wrong but could also be damaging to my personal and business reputation in the town. As such I reserve the right to seek legal advice regarding this unfortunate incident.”   

Is this the way you want to see your councillors conduct official business? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

8 thoughts on “Was councillor the victim of institutional bullying?

  1. Am I alone in being unimpressed by nearly all councillors of all parties? Never has there been a better argument for borough councils being run by independent people not puppets of their national party. It seems to me that virtual meetings are sensible at present but a return to face face meetings is a given. Not all discussions between councillors can take place in public nor have they ever been – but the decisions have to be made in public and on the record.

  2. Sorry Cllr Batsford, but weren’t you complaining about personal attacks extremely recently? How hypocritical of you and your colleagues.

  3. Clr Batsford is his own worst enemy . A loose canon habitually stating tactless incorrect info. A 50yr old treating local social media pages like a fast shoot-to-kill teenage computer game. No room for facts or diplomacy – anything goes to silence opposition.

    I’m no fan of Clr Rankin – but would Clrs Batsford & Fitzgerald have stated exact same comments face to face? Or were they feeling safe at home behind screens? A school ground own goal demonstrating why face to face IS preferable!

    How often are full council meetings, every 2 months? Surely Labour are enforcing stereotypes implying 1/ all women have kids, that only they can look after them & they’re tied to the home unable to leave for a few hours every 8wks.. Surely getting out & meeting adult colleagues would be beneficial? How about once Covid restrictions ease Local Lab provide childcare funds enabling all female councillors to attend these infrequent meetings? Along with necessary transport.

    Let’s not forget Clr Batsford’s toe curling 2020 vlog series – he & two male chums boorishly discussing politics ‘lads style’ over beers cans – women & kids seen in the distant kitchen. All they needed was cigars…..

    How about local Labour stop being so ruddy aggressive, their 1066 blood sport bludgeons Greens & Lib Dems too. A 2021 diplomatic kinder culture would attract diverse councillors…. & votes !

    Steve Rodrick summarises the situation so well – let us hope one day Hastings has an independent run council.

  4. Rather childish irrelevant point-scoring on one side and over-sensitive (and publicity seeking) reaction on the other.

  5. Yawn, Clr Batsford making headlines for all the wrong reasons again. He’ll not change. Anyone on local FB knows he relishes stirring things up, often to the detriment of HBC. happy to insult people until the table turns on him when he’ll cry victim. No publicity is bad publicity hey Andy?

    Clrs Judy Rogers & Matthew Beaver were calm & sensible – thank you to both. Rankin was clumsy as is his style, the comment about postal votes was irresponsible.He is right about Labour providing flimsy reasons for people unable to attend meetings. Clr Fitzgerald was unusually lazy with a low blow response (perhaps he was tired) – it emboldened Clr Batsford to take the platform to channel Donald Trump press conference car crash stylie. Its worth watching Andy Patmore’s face obviously genuinely appalled by Batsford’s reckless rude performance.

    Had they all been face to face looking one another in the eye it would’ve been v.different to hiding behind small screens. Also the meeting would surely be shorter too, so clunky online.

    No wonder theres a dire lack of candidates for councillors. This Hastings Lab v Con match is so dreary & unproductive. & yes local Labour do routinely resort to bullying all other parties, a well known v old debate surely?

    Oh to have an independent council ….. till then the Greens will hoover up more votes.

  6. When Clr Peter Chowney pleads the case for pouring concrete on our green spaces because he claims were utterly desperate for affordable housing do the Tories ever pipe up about him being a landlord? His HBC declarations show he owns three houses within central St Leonards – his home, a rental property plus a holiday rental. Tories never mention this but I will as a life long Labour voter – I despise this rank hypocrisy. Chowney should lead by example in a town with a housing crisis, is he a millionaire too via his own property investments? Probably so with current inflated prices but less wealthy than Tory Clr Rankin. The Tories make a pathetic opposition they are overly polite missing tricks like this to hold our broken council to account. High minded Warren Davies teacher at a private school – Socialist council my a***. They are a smug medieval court with us the community as peasants – Batsford a poor jester with only a few of Lab entourage laughing him on.

  7. What faultless observations in these comments about Cllr Batsford and of course this entire cabal of councillors overall. Why do we hear more from Batsford than not only other Labour councillors but even the leader herself?
    Steve Rodrick is spot on about the dire need to have this council run by independent individuals and not these party cliques. They who always know far better than the electorate but rely on the very same people to vote them in office.
    What are their motives for wanting to be a councillor? I ask myself that question often when I read articles like this.

  8. The Council squabbling last week was nearly as bad as the invisibility of the Dear Leader Cllr Forward. What is she for?

    Cllr Batsford has Jeffrey Archer’s gift for ‘inaccurate precis’, aka pork pies and character assassination.

    Cllr Patmore’s complaint is deserved, but a better one would be on the refusal of officers to defend a Martineau Lane planning appeal, or even pursue enforcement action (case HS/FA/20/00884). The officers’ judgement has been formally disagreed with by elected members. Who actually runs Hastings?

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