Pep talk & Shirley

My absentee councillor, Shirley Brown née Marshall, has broken cover and spoken to the Evening Post about her ‘moment of race jibe madness’!

Nearly six years after she was voted in, Shirley Brown remains Bristol’s only black councillor.

In a city that has had a large African Caribbean population for more than 50 years and now has a significant proportion of residents from backgrounds across the globe, she does not think that is good enough.

Shirley, 48, intends to spend the two remaining years of her second term as Liberal Democrat councillor for Ashley ward trying to improve the situation.

“It is really important for more African Caribbean people and more black and minority ethnic people in general to become engaged with the political process and I will be working on that,” she said.

She has had huge support from the people of Easton and St Paul’s, and never more so than when opponents criticised her for spending too long in America in the early months of her marriage to Byron Brown.

“People really rallied round me – but seeing what I went through does make some of them reluctant to put themselves forward for public life,” she said.

During her first term on the council, from 2003-2007, mother of three Shirley said she spent up to 60 hours a week on council work, attending more than 30 meetings every month.

But a couple of months after she was re-elected, and shortly after the death of her father, the then Shirley Marshall collapsed at work in Easton and was taken to the BRI.

Although it turned out not to be a stroke, as suspected, Shirley took it as a warning sign that she was burning herself out.

She went to America to recuperate and it was while she was there that her friend Byron, whom she had met when he was visiting Bristol on a council exchange, proposed.

Four days later, the pair wed and three days after that Shirley came back to Bristol. Early in 2008, she returned to the US for an extended honeymoon and soon began to attract criticism for picking up her £11,000 council allowance while she was across the Atlantic.

The Lib Dems felt this was unfair, given that councillors from all parties have had long illness absences that have not drawn so much attention.

In her defence, Shirley contended that she was continuing some of her ward work by email and her fellow Lib Dem Ashley councillor Jon Rogers was covering the rest.

She now has an unexpected opportunity to repay him for that, as Jon is a cabinet member following the surprise elevation of the Liberal Democrats to control of the council last week.

Shirley said: “Jon and I work very well together and now he is an executive member it will mean I will be covering ward work a lot more.”

…She played an active role in many events for Abolition 200 – the 200th anniversary of the Bill to end the slave trade – and is a supporter of the Legacy Commission, which will carry on some of that work.

She was therefore horrified that an Asian Conservative councillor, Jay Jethwa, spoke out at the council meeting last week against continuing funding for the commission.

“I could not believe she was saying that,” Shirley said. But the Tories were equally incredulous at the Lib Dem’s response, in which she called Councillor Jethwa a coconut, and made an official complaint.

Her boss, Lib Dem Councillor Barbara Janke, was not impressed either and has told Shirley to apologise, which she did.

As well as the council, Shirley has her paid work helping young people with personal development and working with women’s groups, as well as speaking engagements and motivational seminars.

There is also her faith. She is a preacher, although she has cut back on her work since her illness…

I await this renewed interest in ward casework with bated breath.

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