Opposition parties rally round former Swanley mayor following resignation
PUBLISHED: 15:54 08 November 2016
A Lib Dem spokesman suggested the incident was part of a wider cultural problem
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have rallied round Swanley’s former mayor Shanker Gaire, who resigned last week amid allegations of racism following the Brexit vote.
Councillor Gaire became the UK’s first-ever Nepalese mayor when he was elected to the post in May this year, but he stepped down last week claiming he had been ‘disrespected and disregarded’ by council leader Victor Southern and town clerk Julie Pilbeam.
Councillor Southern denied the allegations, rejecting accusations of racism and claiming there has been a misunderstanding of the mayor’s ceremonial role.
But representatives of the opposition parties have backed Cllr Gaire and hit out at cultural problems on the scandal-hit council.
Alan Bullion, Lib Dem parliamentary spokesman for Swanley and Sevenoaks, said: “They said he misunderstood the role but I don’t think that is the issue. I think the issue is that he was not prepared to be a puppet mayor.
“He had raised issues with the council leader and chief executive about various issues he had been unhappy with since last May and seemingly got no satisfaction.
“Judging by the way he was treated, the disrespect does not surprise me at all.”
Swanley Labour councillor Michael Hogg suggested that, while he did not think there had been any overt racism, Cllr Gaire may have been appointed for the wrong reasons.
“He was made mayor after just one year as a councillor,” he explained. “I do not believe he got any mentoring or guidance and they just left him to get on with it.
“His rapid promotion was probably to advertise the fact that they were accommodating an ethnic minority councillor. I don’t know if it was sincere or was just a showpiece.
“The mayor found he was being increasingly sidelined by the majority Conservative group. He felt increasingly uncomfortable and decided to hand in his resignation.”
The council was rocked by another embarrassing incident last week, when it was reported that Conservative councillors had removed district and town councillor Tony Searles as whip following an allegation of sexual harassment.
Mr Bullion added: “It seems to be part of a wider culture. When several councillors leave for various reasons and the funds are falling apart, you have to ask why.
“The people of Swanley have been badly served for some time and continue to be. It is a right mess at the town council – it is fundamentally dysfunctional. Obviously the citizens are very dissatisfied and talking about it on social media.”
He suggested the council needed better people with more weighty experience before it would be able to turn a corner.
Cll Gaire and his wife, the former mayoress, have pledged to remain on the town council as independent councillors.