A third meeting will be held to decide whether the phrase “silly woman” was mere political ding-dong between two Milton Keynes politicians or something deserving of punishment.
Cllr Andy Dransfield (Independent) called Labour cabinet member Zoe Nolan a “silly woman” at a heated gathering of Loughton Parish Council in November, 2017, and there have been two meetings at Milton Keynes Council since then.
The first gathering of the Standards Sub Committee, in November 2018, decided that there had been no breach of Loughton & Great Holm Parish Council’s Code of Conduct.
But Cllr Peter Todd, the parish council’s chairman, himself a lawyer, appealed against that decision. It is the first time that such an appeal has ever been heard in Milton Keynes.
A second meeting was held on Tuesday, February 12, to decided whether the first meeting had been right to find there had been no breach of the code. There were 11 people in the room at the centre of proceedings, and three others watching on.
Cllr Dransfield had already been censured for saying that local PC Hiscocks ‘looked young enough to be at school’. But he was found not to be in breach of the rules in regard to comments made against Cllr Nolan at the parish council.
In introducing his appeal Cllr Todd said: “The evidence is not in dispute, Cllr Dransfield did say “get a sense of humour, silly woman”. It was disparaging and put her down, and used her gender to put her down.”
He said it was agreed that the language councillor Dransfield used was inappropriate. “It went beyond democratic debate,” said Cllr Todd. “The inescapable conclusion is that the committee misdirected itself.
“It is not acceptable to use sexist, abusive and derogatory language even against a political opponent.”
Kat Hulatt, MK Council’s acting head of legal, said the previous committee had been advised that politicians had a different bar applied to them.
“The advice was that there is a higher bar in political debate than with a member of the public,” she said.
Cllr Dransfield said the committee could not decide the issue without knowing the circumstances and that Cllr Nolan had also shown disrespect to him.
“There was regular mutual disrespect between myself and Cllr Nolan.” he said. "Acrimony prevailed at meetings, and at this meeting, the chairman was failing to keep control, and interruptions by Cllr Nolan were allowed.”
Two independent people were involved and one, Maureen Briggs, said that she could not understand the first committee’s decision. “Higher standards are expected of councillors and councillor Dransfield failed to meet those standards,” she said.
After a meeting that lasted nearly 90 minutes, the committee decided to quash the first committee’s decision. They will be holding another meeting to decide on a legal point of whether the phrase “silly woman” is a breach of the code.
Both sides were disappointed with the decision. Cllr Dransfield, who will be stepping down at the elections in May, said: “As I was walking here, I saw homeless people in the underpasses of Milton Keynes. This is a waste of time.”
And Cllr Todd said he was disappointed because the issue for him was a clear one as there had been a breach of the parish council’s code of conduct. He did not think different standards should apply to councillors.