‘Look, no women’: Sexism row breaks out at town council

Outgoing mayor of Lowestoft Alice Taylor. Pictures: Mick Howes

Outgoing mayor of Lowestoft Alice Taylor. Pictures: Mick Howes - Credit: Archant

A town council has been engulfed in a sexism row after failing to elect any women into positions of power.

Lowestoft Town Council. Picture: Conor Matchett

Lowestoft Town Council. Picture: Conor Matchett - Credit: Archant

Waveney’s Labour and Green parties have been accused of working as a group to carry out a “highly organised and well-orchestrated takeover” of Lowestoft Town Council following their annual meeting last week, where no women were elected as committee chairs, or as mayor or deputy.

Outgoing mayor Alice Taylor voiced concerns following the meeting, held online on May 12, and has written to the parties to raise the issue.

She said: “The Labour councillors came in as a group and they put their own people in. Not a single woman was elected as chair of any of the committees. My jaw dropped.

“If it was just me overlooked, that’s just basic politics, but there are other women on the council, with good backgrounds and professionals in their fields with their hands up for the positions who were just knocked into the long grass.

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

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“They knew what they wanted.

“We are a small council and we don’t have groups or political parties. We all sit at the same table. Going forward, groups need to be aware of how to proactively be inclusive.”

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Donia Slyzuk, chair of the Waveney Labour Party, confirmed the party had received a complaint from Mrs Taylor.

She said: “As a woman involved in politics, it is always disappointing to see women underrepresented in political and public life.

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

“The Labour Party is a party of equality and has fought hard to ensure that society provides equal opportunities for all and will continue to do so.

“Labour strongly believes that no one should feel disadvantaged, discriminated against, or harassed due to their gender, either inside the party or in wider society.

“Groups such as 50:50 Parliament have done much to progress the cause of women in politics, but there is clearly a long way to go both locally and nationally.”

Toby Hammond, the Green party’s Waveney elections agent in the 2019 General Election, denied the council’s Green representative discriminated against the women, but said they would be speaking to all their councillors about the issue.

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw. PHOTO: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

He said: “Waveney Green Party has full sympathy with Alice for her frustrations at the lack of female councillors in leadership positions in local government. We take the allegation that one of our councillors on Lowestoft Town Council may have deliberately voted against women very seriously.

“After a thorough investigation we are certain that he voted for the people that he thought would be best for the job, and did not discriminate on the basis of gender.

“Contrary to the claims, there has been no discussion about the Lowestoft Town Council AGM within Waveney Green Party.

“Lowestoft town councillors act independently on the town council without input from the party, and it would be inappropriate to behave in any other way with a ‘non-political’ town or parish council.

“We do not condone or promote ‘the old boys club’ and have not been aware of it happening or any evidence that deliberate misogyny took place, however we will talk to all our representatives to make sure they are aware of the discrimination that women face in politics and the unconscious bias that women face generally, resulting in them not being well represented in leadership roles.”

Mrs Taylor’s claims, however, were echoed by other women on the council, who are outnumbered six-13 by their male colleagues.

Councillor Tara Carlton said: “Why is it we live in a society where we protest for women’s rights, fair pay and to be equal to each other?

“So why is it okay not to have one single woman as chair of a single committee or in some sort of power position?

“We had a female mayor and other women sitting in on committees as chair last year but come the AGM it was pre-planned and tactical movements to remove every woman and replace them with a man so in a sense it is now all male-power town council.”

Councillor Amanda Frost said: “I believe the AGM was a pre-planned, highly organised and well-orchestrated cross-party takeover of our town council. It was blatant and obvious.

“There will no doubt be a lot of excuses and denials as to why this has happened, but let’s just focus on the results: No women.”

Councillor Susan Barnard, however, said she expects her colleagues to vote for the person, not their gender.

She said: “I am not a member of any political party and remain an independent town councillor for Gunton ward.

“I was chair of the assets, inclusion and development committee last year but did not stand for this position again as I am socially isolating and considered it unreasonable to be a chair when I could possibly not be able to attend physical meetings in future months.

“18 town councillors, the majority of who are independent like me, were able to vote at this year’s AGM. I would expect, whatever their gender, that they voted for the individual they thought to be the best person for each office, as I did.”

Mrs Brambley-Crawshaw said the Green party was taking a “direct and active” approach to tackling the gender imbalance thoughout politics at all levels.

She said: “The statistics are stark, 97pc of councils are male dominated. Only 34pc of councillors are women and women are rarely promoted to leadership positions.

“This must be challenged by local parties and we fully recognise our important role in the promotion and encouragement of women.

“Of all political parties, the Green Party has the highest percentage of female councillors at 44pc. We recognise we still have some way to go before we achieve a gender balance, therefore we take a direct and active approach in encouraging talented women to stand in, and win, elections.

“Waveney Green Party occupies four seats on principal authorities, three of these seats are held by women.”

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