Listen to Janet
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 March 2013
As chair of the Exmouth Residents and Traders Association (ERaTA) I was dismayed to read in last week's Journal that Janet Sawyer, one of our members, had been reported to the local Conservative Party for the comments she made at one of our public meetings ("Conservative Party in 'free speech' spat).
Please let me explain why.
ERaTA operates as a broad church respecting sincerely held views, even if we disagree with them, and encouraging people to speak about the local issues that concern them.
This promotes mutual understanding and alerts us to issues that we might not otherwise have known about.
Miss Sawyer is well known locally and, I believe, a long-standing member of the Conservative Party. Most people know that she holds strong views on propriety that she is not afraid to mention in open forum.
No surprises here then when she expressed her concerns about her local councillors in a forthright statement at our meeting.
In fact I did feel obliged to intervene, as there were councillors present and I felt it possible that her candour might upset them.
Herein lies the nub of our approach. We defend people’s right to say what they think but try to ensure that in so doing they do not unduly upset others.
What bothers me here is that someone is being taken to task for being outspoken at one of our meetings by one of the other people that was present.
This may discourage others from raising issues in the future for fear of similar reprisals.
All that Miss Sawyer was doing was in effect ‘whistleblowing’ – something our Conservative-led government is keen to encourage. But of course, as we all know, it doesn’t work because someone always tries to gag the ‘offender’.
Organisations that brook no criticism run the risk that their own members may be reluctant to air concerns for fear of retribution.
Perhaps more notice should be taken of what Miss Sawyer has to say.
Chair, Exmouth Residents and Traders Association