Concern raised that Thanet council deputy leader may quit role amid claims of being bullied by ‘members of own party’

Helen Whitehead

Concern has been raised that Thanet council’s deputy leader may quit her role amid claims of being bullied by members of her own political party.

An emotional account was published on the Labour councillor for Margate Central’s facebook page today (September 9) saying she has endured a campaign waged against her because, she says, other members dislike her partner.

In the post it says Cllr Whitehead has been belittled due to living with autism and seen guillotine images posted in reference to her role

The statement says: “I have been bullied by members of my own party for well over a year now. Unlike them I haven’t taken it to public forums, because I don’t believe it’s right to do so.  Unlike them I haven’t attacked because that isn’t who I am, much as it suits some people to believe otherwise.

“I have done my best to protect my party and live up to my ideals. Whispering (in fact, pretty much shouting) campaigns have been running against me for a very long time.

“Both officers and Cabinet members have commended my work. So does the community that I work with directly. But that hasn’t mattered to them, because I am no longer perceived to be “left” enough, simply because I fell in love with someone the left of my party dislikes.

“I have been accused of horrendous things. I have been labelled as a bully. As an autistic woman I have been called Cabinet’s “useful idiot”. I have been told that if you speak and write fluently you’re not disabled. I have been told that the fact that I’m autistic isn’t relevant when considering how difficult it has been for me to do as well as I have at this role.

“I have seen other councillors within my own party like those comments about me. I have been told that I need to be ashamed of myself, that I’m useless at my job, that those members will make sure I am removed from my job, I have had to watch threads unfold with pictures of guillotines and images of a politician being dropped off a cliff by members. I have had to watch people I was friends with stand by and do and say nothing, because they are scared of the same thing happening to them.

“The above images aren’t metaphors to me. They are what has been done to me mentally over the past year and a half.

“To our knowledge I was the first autistic woman to take on this role. I did it as a single mother with two disabilities. I did it well. And the very last thing I expected was to be deliberately harmed by my own party, and people I thought were my friends.

“I have had to be quiet for nearly a year and a half. I managed it. There’s no point in being quiet any more.  Thank you to those who supported me.

“I did my absolute best, and I’m sorry that I can’t take any more.”

Following the statement there have been many messages of support for the Margate mum-of-one and former special needs deputy head teacher.

Cabinet colleague Steve Albon responded: “As a cabinet colleague, I can honestly say, that in the work you have done and are currently doing, has been outstanding . We have worked together on various issues and your advice and input has been invaluable.

“As for you bullying anybody is complete fiction. There are a number of aggressive people within any political party and ours is no exception. I have personally witnessed the results of bullying against you and it’s not good. The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Now is the time and I will be right beside you.”

Cllr Whitehead was elected to her district council seat, alongside ward colleague Rob Yates, last year. Cllr Yates also posted to a message of support.

She became deputy leader when Labour took the council leadership from the Conservatives following a vote of no confidence in then leader Bob Bayford.

In the run up to the election she said her aims were to “provide a voice for those who need it; acknowledge the huge difficulties we have both in housing provision and in support and provision for those with disabilities; represent residents on a local level; and continue to raise issues on a regional and national level for those issues that affect our local provision.”

Council and Thanet Labour Party leader Rick Everitt said: ““Helen has my absolute support as deputy leader and as a person. She is an outstanding councillor and I and the Labour group want her to continue to serve the people of Thanet.

“She also has the respect of other political groups, even if they don’t support Labour’s view of particular issues. It is grossly unfair that she has been pushed into a place where she feels she needs to speak out publicly in this way and I will continue to take whatever action I can to support her. She knows that.

“However, her own welfare is paramount and I will support her in whatever course she decides is best for her.”