Mayor of Swanley announces resignation amid claims of racism following Brexit vote
PUBLISHED: 12:05 03 November 2016
Shanker Gaire was the first Nepalese mayor to be elected in the UK
The UK’s first Nepalese mayor has resigned from Swanley town council and the Conservative Party after claiming he was isolated and sidelined because of his race.
Tory councillor Shanker Gaire was elected to the post in May this year but announced his resignation last night amid what he claims was an increasingly hostile atmosphere following the Brexit vote.
Cllr Gaire alleges he has been ‘disrespected and disregarded’ by council leader Victor Southern and town clerk Julie Pilbeam, who did not seek his approval or consult him on key issues.
But cllr Southern has denied the allegations, rejecting accusations of racism and claiming there has been a misunderstanding of the mayor’s ceremonial role.
In a speech made at a full council meeting last night, cllr Gaire said the hostility towards him was preventing him from serving the community.
He continued: “It has always been said that politics is a dirty game. However, I had not believed in it but now I stand corrected on this matter.
“Without mincing words, I would like to inform you that I may be a mayor in your eyes, but in the council, I have been disrespected and disregarded through words, action, tone, attitude and body language by the two key people in the executive positions, namely the chief executive and/or the town clerk and the council leader.
“I am not consulted over matters and nor is my approval sought.”
As an example, councillor Gaire said he had not been invited to the opening of a disabled swing conversion by Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon in October, and that his fundraising efforts had gone unrecognised.
He also claimed that he had not been advised about the allocated mayoral allowance, which is used to cover expenses incurred while carrying out mayoral duties.
Cllr Gaire added: “I thought that Brexit had created a barrier mainly for Europeans but it seems that this spirit was extended beyond Europe and created a barrier for the only Nepalese elected as Mayor in the history of the United Kingdom.”
Council leader Victor Southern was quick to deny the allegations of racism made by the former mayor.
“That is absurd,” he told The Reporter. “It is insulting to me personally, considering my background.
“No-one has done anything, overtly or covertly, to undermine his position and until two weeks ago we had a very friendly relationship.
“We elected him in May and the Brexit vote was in June. We do not discuss Brexit as councillors because it is nothing to do with the functions we are elected for.
“We were rather proud that we elected the first Nepalese mayor in Great Britain. He has been to my house ten times to discuss things and all of those meetings were very amicable.”
Cllr Southern suggested cllr Gaire had misunderstood the ceremonial nature of his role.
“From the beginning there was a misunderstanding over the function of the mayor. He seemed to think he was chief executive, whereas by definition the mayor is not a member of the executive,” he said.
“We are the people who set the policies.”
Cllr Southern added that, as the former mayor also worked full time, it was sometimes difficult for him to attend events.
He denied the mayor’s fund had been touched and pointed out that the mayoral allowance was available for Cllr Gaire but did not cover every cost incurred during visits.
Cllr Gaire said he had been encouraged to stay on in his role but did not want to let the public down by continuing in a position in which he was “merely a puppet in the hands of a few who are controlling and intimidating”.
He and the mayoress have pledged to remain on the town council as independent councillors.