'˜Personal' online abuse a factor in deputy leader's decision to leave Sheffield Council
Sheffield's outgoing deputy leader has urged people to '˜stop and think' before posting personal abuse online.
Leigh Bramall, who announced his decision to resign on Monday, said attacks on social media were increasingly part of public life.
But while he accepted scrutiny would always come with the job of a city councillor, he criticised those who chose to focus not on policy but on personality.
“I don’t think anyone has a problem with scrutiny,” the 42-year-old said.
“That’s part of the job and we accept that.
“And I don’t think anyone has a problem with criticism of policies and even your own performance.
“But there is an issue sometimes with the personal abuse that can come with the job. That applies to anyone in public life.
“It’s one of the problems with modern society.”
The council has come in for local and national criticism in recent years, particularly in regards to its handling of tree felling.
Mr Bramall said he believed most people were ‘decent and fair’, even if they disagreed with his views.
But the attacks, especially online, were one of the factors in his decision to step down.
“That’s not happened overnight,” he said. “It’s happened to many people, not just councillors.
“Anyone in the public sphere seems to be getting abuse. It’s just a part of life today.
“The problem is at first glance it might seem to aid democracy, but the opposite might be true.
“It allows people who have quite nasty views in private to make them public and constant.”
Mr Bramall also bemoaned the lack of context provided by media such as Twitter, where posts are limited to 140 characters, and said he had deleted the app from his phone.
“People just need to stop and think that there’s another human being at the end of it,” he said.
But online attacks were not the only reason for the former deputy leader’s decision to step down. He also highlighted the pressure being the council’s second-in-command placed on family life.
Mr Bramall was elected as a Labour councillor in the Southey ward in 2004, and was deputy leader for six years.
He is married with two children and has chosen to focus his attention on them, as well as his new role as a director of city communications agency Counter Context.
The job is likely to pay more than the Â£22,728.87 Mr Bramall claimed in council allowances in 2015/16.
He said his ‘24/7’ role at the council put a ‘huge strain’ on his family life.
“My kids are still young, at 11 and nine, but with the eldest going to secondary school and the need to get even more involved, it’s an important point in their lives,” he said.
“It’s an important time to be spending with my family. They have to live with what I do and what I decide to do.”
Mr Bramall admitted it would be a wrench to leave close colleagues in the council. But he said he was proud of his record in office.
“In the economic areas we have started to have some real successes,” he said, mentioning Sheffield Retail Quarter, the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation District and the 60-year partnership with Sichuan Guodong in China.
“That gives me an immense sense of personal pride, and pride that a Labour council has helped deliver that at a time when we have had less money than ever before.”
Mr Bramall said it was important to believe he had made the right decisions for the right reasons – even if they were at times unpopular.
And he did not rule out a return to public office.
“Once you have had a taste of doing something like this, it’s very difficult just to completely leave everything to do with that and never have any involvement in the city.
“It makes you want to at least take part in things,” he said.
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