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Jackie Weaver: Angus Council should ‘encourage woman to stay’ amid council sexism row

Jackie Weaver, left, and David Fairweather
Viral star Jackie Weaver says Angus Council and its leader, David Fairweather, should rethink their defence of a disgraced councillor.

She might not have the authority in Angus – but Jackie Weaver is not impressed with how a council sexism row has played out.

The viral star rose to fame with her commanding oversight of a parish council meeting in December.

She says the administration and its leader David Fairweather need to think on how they are defending a councillor with a history of sexual harassment.

Feminist campaigners and opposition members have criticised the the re-appointment of Cllr Richard Moore.

Moore made “unwarranted and inappropriate physical contact” with four women during a council event in 2017

They say this sends the wrong message about the council’s stance on equality.

No justification

To date, council leader Mr Fairweather has ignored calls to justify the ex-Lib Dem’s return to a position of power.

Instead, he has branded scrutiny of the decision as “harassment [and] victimisation verging on bullying”, with no reference to the women Cllr Moore preyed on.

Councillor Richard Moore
Councillor Richard Moore

But an unimpressed Ms Weaver says the time is long gone that elected public servants can abuse their power and go largely unpunished.

She said: “It’s not enough to say that equality and diversity are important to you. You have to be able to say what you’re going to do about it.”

Ms Weaver has decried the loss of Cllr Lois Speed, the only woman in the administration, who stood down in March citing an “unhealthy culture” in the corridors of power.

Lois Speed
Lois Speed

Cllr Speed was one of the councillors Moore harassed at a social care event, alongside Julie Bell.

“The most distressing part of this is that a female councillor has felt she is no longer able to continue in her position,” she said.

“That should not be the situation. We should be encouraging women to stay, but we can’t if they don’t feel safe.

“It’s not enough to say you support diversity. What are you actually doing about it?”

‘I’m a Motherwell girl’

Next week, Angus Council will review the progress made on its Equalities Mainstreaming policy, which aims to “integrate equality into the day-to-day working of the council”.

Ms Weaver is a local government veteran and chair of the Cheshire Association of Councils who hails from Motherwell. She is not convinced much progress is being made across the UK.

She has experience of dealing with entitled men, having disarmed several who tried to tell her she had “no authority here” during the infamous Handforth Parish Council meeting.

The chair and vice-chair of the parish council have since quit.

“What I’ve found behind the scenes in the past is that if you’re closely involved with politicians you may well come across behaviour that makes you feel very uncomfortable – but you accept it because it seems to be part of the job,” Weaver continued.

“It’s unacceptable. The key word here is ‘kindness’. I’m not by any means an airy-fairy person – I’m a Motherwell girl – but we need to hang on to that word, ‘kindness’. There’s no reason why the council can’t be co-operative.”

People can reinforce prejudices

However, she lamented: “People get very close in a group – they can reinforce each other’s prejudices.”

In a recent column for the i newspaper, she expressed her frustration that councillors “can abuse, bully, and harass, use sexist, racist, or homophobic language, lie, cheat, and deceive and remain in post”.

However, she remains hopeful that as councillors stand down – as several in Angus have said they will next May – others people with more progressive views will step in.

“I’m a firm believer that people join councils for change,” she concluded.

“They don’t join them because they think it’s good fun – they join them because there’s a challenge of something being wrong and they want to change it.

Angus Council leader David Fairweather
Angus Council leader David Fairweather

“This is an opportunity [for Angus Council] to affect change and there’s a lot of support for it. We can help women who feel isolated.”

An Angus Council spokesperson said the authority is “fully committed to equalities and inclusion”.

Council leader David Fairweather declined to comment on Ms Weaver’s remarks.

Cllr Moore has failed to respond to multiple requests for comment for several weeks.