Council leader told to apologise to residents for ‘inflammatory schadenfreude’
- Credit: Archant
A council leader has been told to apologise for his “inflammatory”, “ill-judged” and “schadenfreude” remarks about district residents.
Brian Long, the leader of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council (KLWNBC), was ordered to say sorry to members of West Norfolk Extinction Rebellion after a complaint was made about him referring to campaigners as a “faction” and “not the public”.
After the meeting he said: “I am glad they are disappointed. Those members of the public are not members of the public. They’re members of a particular faction.”
Dr Charlie Gardner formally complained to the council about Mr Long’s remarks, alongside 17 other signatories, which included members of the campaign group.
The complaint, submitted on February 13, stated: “These comments would be unacceptable if made in private conversation.
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“However the fact that they have been printed in a newspaper brings both the councillor and the council into great disrepute.”
And Mr Long was criticised in the council’s report into the complaint for “inflammatory schadenfreude” and statements which were “ill-judged and disappointingly lacking respect”.
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However, the council said it would not formally sanction or refer him to the standards board - and there is no provision to appeal against their decision.
Dr Gardner said the comments showed the leader “categorised us as protesters rather than as constituents” and “places his personal animosity to the climate protest movement before his professional obligation”.
He said Mr Long’s “pleasure at ensuring the disappointment of his constituents” was also “deeply shocking and concerning” and his views were “categorically wrong”.
He added that the comments showed a “serious lack of respect for the democratic process”.
Noel Doran, the council’s deputy monitoring officer, said: “As leader of the council, Mr Long is entitled, if not expected, to express an opinion on matters of local political sensitivity, if not controversy.
“It is not surprising that his opinion will not necessarily find universal favour amongst the whole of the constituency.”
He added: “While his opinion could perhaps have been expressed more sensitively, it was not expressed in a way which falls sufficiently below the standards of the code of conduct as to warrant the time and public expense of further investigation.”
However, the independent person assessing the complaint, who was not named, said Mr Long’s comments “could attribute questionable objectivity” and were based on “personal feelings”.
They said: “In particular the pleasure at disappointment appears inflammatory and schadenfreude and could be said to be potentially designed to aggravate the situation further.
“As a member of the council, he is elected by his constituents and does need to represent all of them in a fair way, even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with them.”
“I find the comments to be ill-judged and disappointingly lacking respect.”
They noted that Mr Long had not denied making the comments.
But the independent person also said: “However, I don’t consider them to be malicious or to fall significantly below the code of conduct. Therefore I don’t believe this should be pursued further.
“I would suggest the member make a formal apology to the complainant.”
The report, dated May 18, also included comments from Mr Long.
The council leader said “If I have caused direct offence to any individual, then I apologise.”
However, he also claimed the complaint was “politically motivated” and added: “Whilst I accept that the complainants are members of the public they are also members of local groups whose stated aim is to influence and in some cases force their views. This is in itself political.”
The deputy monitoring officer noted: “The subject member is willing to apologise for any individual offence caused, although no public apology is believed to have been issued.”
Mr Gardner said that as of May 27, no apology had been made.
“We would appreciate that apology so we can draw a line under this matter and move forward as grown-ups,” he said.
A council spokesman said Mr Long invited Dr Gardner and his colleagues to discuss concerns last year and is happy to talk to them at the next regular council meeting.
Mr Long said the council continued to work hard on its climate change strategy, despite reduced capacity due to Covid-19.
The spokesman added that the council leader had “nothing more to add to his original statement”.