The Isle of Wight Council’s annual budget-setting meeting on Wednesday evening descended into chaos, with chairman, Cllr Geoff Brodie, repeatedly shouting at members of the public to ‘shut up’, and then suspending the meeting. A number of councillors walked out, there was shouting across the chamber amid allegations of misogyny, bullying and harassment.
At the start of the meeting the public gallery was full, with most people saying that they had turned out to show their support for council leader, Lora Peacey-Wilcox. Although the later disruption involved only a few members of the public, Cllr Brodie insisted that everyone in the public gallery should be excluded from the rest of the meeting, with some being informed that the police had been called.
The furore started after Conservative group leader, Cllr Joe Robertson, complained that the leader had not ‘taken the opportunity to say a single thing about diversity and ethnic minorities’ earlier in the meeting, when she had listed her priorities as protecting vulnerable Islanders. Cllr Peacey-Wilcox had said that she wanted to help people in poverty, women, children, vulnerable people in her ward and those in the social care system. Cllr Robertson then referenced claims that a picture, posted on the leader’s private Facebook account, showed golly dolls in her home, and demanded that she explain herself.
When Cllr Peacey-Wilcox said that she would not answer the question as she had no prior notice of it and was ‘not a matter about budget, or policy, or something for which the council has responsibility’, Cllr Brodie intervened and said and that it ‘was incumbent upon her to provide a response to Cllr Robertson’. A clearly upset Cllr Peacey-Wilcox responded that she would supply a written answer.
Cllr Julie Jones-Evans tried to get the meeting suspended, due to the ‘harassment and bullying of a fellow member’. She sais she was watching ‘criminal misogyny’. Cllr Robertson shouted out in response, ‘What about ethnic minorities?’.
Members of the public tried to express support for the council leader from the gallery and were repeatedly told to shut up by the chairman. As tensions escalated, there were shouts of ‘disgusting’ from the gallery. Cllr Brodie then adjourned the meeting for the public gallery to be cleared and a number of councillors walked out.
Once the meeting got underway again, the chairman asked Cllr Robertson to put his question again, which was followed up by another question on the same subject from fellow Tory, Cllr Suzie Ellis. A much more measured question then came from Cllr Warren Drew, who said that none of the Conservatives believed that the leader was racist and attempted to distinguish between her as an individual and her role as council leader.
Cllr Peacey-Wilcox had earlier said that, prior to the budget meeting, she had met the police, and had been given a personal alarm because of bullying and harassment and concerns over her own and her family’s wellbeing.
When it was pointed out to Cllr Ellis after the meeting that Boris Johnson, the leader of her own party, was on record as referring to black people as ‘piccaninnis’ with ‘water-melon smiles’, Muslim women in a burqa looking ‘like letter boxes’ and saying Malaysian women went to university because they ‘have got to find men to marry’, she claimed she was too tired to answer because she had just sat through a long meeting, and asked for the question in writing.
Cllr Robertson responded that they were two different things; it was his job to scrutinise the leader of the IW Council, but he didn’t think Mr Johnson should resign over his racist comments, which he thought ‘were made before he became Prime Minister’. He had earlier sent emails to all Alliance group councillors demanding the resignation of Cllr Peacey-Wilcox saying that “if she won’t resign of her own accord, I am asking all fair-minded members of the Alliance, who take the matter of racial equality seriously, to require her to step aside.”