A tribute to Gill Sweeting

When I was a local councillor in the 1980’s, one of my most formidable colleagues was Gill Sweeting. She was incredibly hard working, paid attention to detail unlike anyone else, and would not be put off her stride no matter how hard we tried.

I managed it just once, when she described the tiles on the outside of a betting shop in Clarence Square as resembling “the inside of a gents urinal”.

“How”, I asked, “does Councillor Sweeting know what the inside of a gent’s urinal looks like?”.

I have always been extremely grateful to Gill Sweeting for three things. Firstly, she encouraged and supported me when I set my sights of winning what was previously an unwinnable seat for the party of which we were members. Her husband, Paul, was my election agent when I won the seat eighteen months later.

Secondly, she collected and drove me every fortnight to Planning Committee site visits, often starting at 6.30am. Thirdly, and most importantly, she has been a strong supporter of the work of Brighton Housing Trust. As the Mayor of Brighton, she chose BHT as her Mayor’s Charity. (The only other time we have had this honour is in the current Mayoralty of Brian Fitch).

But Gill’s greatest campaign is the last she will fight, and the most important, in my mind. Gill was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December 2014. The prognosis was that she would live for up to 6 months. This week she cast her vote in the general and local elections, the last votes she will ever cast.

Gill is a strong and brave supporter of the campaign to change the law on assisted dying. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill seeks to give terminally ill, mentally competent people the legal option of assistance to die with dignity.

Gill said: “It’s far more sensible to do it in a controlled way than do it yourself which can go wrong and which is likely to be very messy. If you throw yourself under a train it mucks up a lot of people’s lives.

“I always thought that by the time I needed assisted dying it would be legal, but it isn’t.”

More than four out of five of the public support Lord Falconer’s Bill, according to the largest ever poll on the issue.

The poll of 5,000 people by Populus found that 53% of people would think more positively about an MP who supported assisted dying, while only 10% would think more negatively. Support for assisted dying is consistent, with over 75% support across the country, amongst supporters of all political parties, of all ages and socio-economic groups. For example, the survey showed 80% of Christians want to see assisted dying made legal.

Gill, along with three others, has made a powerful film presenting the case in support of the Assisted Dying Bill. I would urge you to watch the film ‘My Last Vote and to call on candidates in the general election to support the Bill when it comes before the House of Commons.

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