Green party leader Julia Hilton showed undisguised emotion in her address to the assembled council last week when she thanked Cllr Claire Carr for her work on behalf of the party at the recent elections but also revealed that the “co-operative alliance” forged with Labour will not have the latter’s backing.

Cllr Carr was elected as councillor for Castle ward on a Labour party ticket in May 2021 but defected to the Greens last December. At the time she addressed an open letter to the residents of her ward explaining her shift of allegiance as arising from her stance on gender equality and sexual orientation. “I have reached the conclusion that I will never be treated fairly or have my voice properly heard on behalf of the residents of Castle Ward if I remain in the Labour Party,” she wrote. ”As the mother of a gender non-conforming child, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a strong advocate for equality, I have been side-lined, gagged and isolated”.

Green party councillors and co-leader Adrian Ramsay celebrate election wins at Goat Ledge in May: Cllr Claire Carr is second from the left
CREDIT: Stuart Griffiths

She went on to assert her independence. “Please rest assured that I will continue to be a councillor with strong principles who advocates for my residents and our community, except now I am free to speak in the best interests of the people of Castle ward and Hastings as a whole. Castle ward residents come before any party politics.”

“A missed opportunity”

The altered party arithmetic in the council chamber has made no difference. In a further statement released last week Cllr Carr wrote that the reasons she left the Labour party still stand and that she did not feel she could sign up to a deal which allowed Labour to keep control of the council. “I believe the people of this town voted for change which this agreement does not offer enough of”, she declared. “This is a missed opportunity for real cross party working between the three parties which could have given Hastings a fresh, diverse voice as well as allowing all councillors to bring their different skillsets together to meaningfully bring the changes this town so desperately needs.’”

She also took a swipe at the apparently restrictive terms of the alliance negotiated by Ms Hilton. “The document I was required to sign seemed to remove some of my rights as a councillor, including the right to freely ask questions and bring amendments when in the best interest of the residents of Castle ward or the town as a whole. I do not wish to enter into any agreement that limits the way in which I perform my duties.” 

Cllr Carr insisted that she remains a member of the Green party and of the Green group of councillors, and wished her co-Greens “best of luck” in their alliance with Labour, but she made it clear that she was keeping aloof. “I will continue to use my position as a councillor, outside of any whip, to try and hold the administration to account and best serve the residents of this town.”

Councillors X and Y 

In the meantime the election results have disinterred a related controversy featuring Cllr Carr. In February this year the council’s Standards Committee conducted a hearing at which a “Councillor X” was accused of breaches of the council’s Code of Conduct by a “Councillor Y”.  X was found guilty of a campaign of bullying on (mainly) social media, and in “using her position to confer a disadvantage upon” Y. The committee directed that, as a sanction, X should undertake one-to-one training with a monitoring officer on the Code of Conduct, and further one-to-one training on social media “with an appropriate officer”. It also directed that the “confidentiality and identities of the complainants and the councillors” should be respected.

Although many insiders will have been well aware that X was Cllr Carr and that Y was the then Labour party councillor for Central St Leonards ward and Deputy Mayor, Ruby Cox, these identities stayed unpublished in the committee’s report. However Ms Cox, having been ousted by Green candidate Tony Collins in last month’s election and therefore feeling herself under no further council obligation, has issued a press release to put her case against Cllr Cox into the public arena.

“After her election as a Labour councillor in May 2021, it seemed to me that Cllr Carr took it upon herself to demonise me and cast me as some sort of transphobic monster”, Ms Cox claims. “with the apparent aim of driving me from office both as a councillor and as Deputy Mayor. She and her supporters initiated a campaign of public denouncement, via social media and all the local papers, which impacted on my mental health, my ability to do my job, my self-confidence, my relationship with other councillors and my sense of safety and security, even in my own home.

“The culmination of her campaign, as many will know, was at Pride last year when she made her denouncement of me from the main stage. I feared this was designed to generate hatred towards me and to give this excited crowd a focus for their anger. My anxiety was such that I felt obliged to leave town for the day. Fortunately I’m still here to write this now, but it could have ended in a very ugly way indeed.”

Cllr Carr remains unrepentant. She says that, as a councillor still in office, she is unable to comment on the Standards Committee hearing: “the council have refused to let me speak on the matter. I am however happy to say I stand by my speech at Hastings Pride and my related Facebook post and will continue to use my voice to support the LGBT+ community and particularly the trans non-binary community, who continue to suffer attacks online and in public by those who hold gender critical views.”

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