Cllr O’Reilly described me as “a hypocrite and a coward, and unethical in how he works – and a mysogynist” and “a tosser” and said “your constant nasty attacks put people off becoming cllrs. You particularly go for new cllrs and women. You’re a bully.”
I think such behaviour is unbecoming of an elected councillor holding such a significant civic role in one of the world’s iconic cities.
Cllr O’Reilly was joined by fellow executive councillor, Cllr Peter Roberts, and various other, largely Labour, activists.
The attack was unprovoked and came as a complete surprise. I can’t recall ever communicating with Cllr O’Reilly outside the context of a public meeting or Twitter. I’ve not particularly commented on Cllr O’Reilly’s performance as a councillor. In recent months I’ve not really been taking too much interest in Cambridge City Council.
Given the attacks were coming from someone who has been elected by the people of Arbury, and given important roles by their fellow councillors, I decided to engage with them and request links to examples backing up the claims. All my campaigning is noted online, mostly on Twitter, Youtube, and this website so providing links ought be practical. The slurs were not substantiated.
A key reason for engaging with the attacks, and thereby publicising them, was to draw attention to them in the hope of prompting a change in culture. I think the unpleasant nature of the debate about how we run Cambridge, and our society more generally, needs to be tackled as I think it creates a high barrier to participation.
I looked into the allegation that I “go for new cllrs” and found I didn’t even know the names of two of the five new councillors elected in May. The suggestion that I disproportionately focus on women councillors has been investigated previously. The results were given as: “So, does Richard write more often about female than male councillors? Not according to this data; on average, each male councillor had 155 hits, and each female councillor had 146.”
I write, and campaign, publicly under my real name, in the city where I live. I make a great effort to ensure all I do is defensible, proportionate, reasonable and morally justified. I strive to be lovely, and I’m always polite and and I have huge respect for our democratic system and the office of councillor. I do not see how I could reasonably be called a coward given I regularly speak at public meetings and place footage of doing so online. I also publish material relating to how we run our society despite living under a regime which makes doing so highly personally risky due to the state of libel law.
Recently I reported an overflowing bin on the Market Square in Cambridge. This was covered in an illustrated front page article in the local paper along with a quote from me saying:
“I think we need to elect better councillors who will get the basics right. I often report, and draw attention to Cambridge’s broken street-lights, failed trees, over-flowing bins, dilapidated or closed public toilets, and decaying signage. If I visit another city and see an unkempt public realm I assume the locals don’t care. I certainly care about the state of Cambridge, a place which I see as my city
I suspect this may have riled Cllr O’Reilly and supporters of the Labour administration currently responsible for running Cambridge.
I have also responded to a recent consultation on the City Council’s tree policies, including a photograph of one of the many poor examples of public trees in Cambridge. Trees are one of Cllr O’Reilly’s areas of responsibility as an executive councillor. My submission didn’t mention any specific councillor and in any case many of the failings are due to previous administrations so Cllr O’Reilly shouldn’t have been upset by my submission; a submission which I would have hoped would be constructive and helpful to someone in the role of Executive Councillor for Trees.
I think what happened here was related to party politics. Labour supporters, and others jumping in, appear to have turned into a mob prepared to attack an outsider. I suspect as I am not a party member, but am taking a personal interest in how our society is being run, I am viewed as “different” by the mob and so in their eyes fair-game for attack.
Section 3.1 of the Cambridge City Council Code of Conduct tells councillors: “You must treat others with respect.” Local activist Timothy Haire, who tweets as Radegund, noted this provision after Cllr O’Reilly addressed me saying: “Sweet Jesus, are you Mr Potato Head?“.
While perhaps the council’s complaints/standards processes or even the police could tackle Cllr O’Reilly, and others’, behaviour I think it is best addressed at the ballot box and we should consider more carefully who we want to have running Cambridge, and who we want to have taking decisions on how to spend our money.
Interestingly my Tweets suggest I may have voted for O’Reilly in 2011