I suspect this report will be difficult to write without upsetting someone,
if I am unlucky maybe everyone, but here goes anyway.
The last full Council meeting of the current electoral cycle was a triumph for retiring Labour Councillor Edward Boateng (Erith). Not only did Councillor Leaf put his own Motion aside to allow Councillor Boateng to put his first but it also won unanimous support.
A rare moment of agreeement.
I suppose it would be difficult for anyone to not wholeheartedly welcome and
accept those words but it is not unknown for Bexley Conservatives to reject
Motions that they find acceptable in order to submit one of their own and claim the credit for it.
During the meeting one Conservative Councillor made comments that I thought were strange to say the least but none voted against the Motion. As someone who has only once witnessed racism - a Sikh woman made an unprovoked attack on another and called her white vermin. I suspect that is totally untypical; maybe I am untypical too. They have drifted away now but I was once in a group of friends who were all Jewish. I never noticed. What difference does it make?
My mobile contacts list includes five Moslems and two Christian vicars. Yesterday, if I exclude the lady who asked me when Crossrail will run through to Heathrow - December next year - I didn’t speak to anyone who wasn’t either Pakistani, Romanian, Ukrainian or Nigerian. I never see a problem. Maybe that is why I find it difficult to understand how racism, hate crime or whatever is such a problem for some people. Do they provoke it or see it where none is intended?
For once I seem to take the same view as Cabinet Member Peter Craske. Just after the EU referendum he said he deplored hate crime but locally it wasn’t a problem. The police agreed with him. Has something changed? At Wednesday’s meeting hate crime was seen as a big problem.
Edward Boateng had experienced it himself and Lewisham born Councillor Borella, with the inevitable swipe at Brexit, had while travelling late at night on trains, been called a Bubble & Squeak (Greek) and a terrorist. He reported both incidents to the police. What sort of situations does he get himself into on a train? No one ever speaks to me on trains.
He said he had encountered ethnic minorities being abused while on the 229 bus to the evening’s meeting. Obviously I lead a very sheltered life.
Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) said “there was no place in this borough for those who commit vile, repugnant, racist, homophobic hate crimes. They should be locked up for a very long time”.
“The far right and hate filled fascism is not welcome in our borough”. The far left then came in for similar criticism, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ken Livingston being specifically mentioned. Jewish MPs “had been on the receiving end of the most disgusting abuse we have ever seen in British politics”. He is not wrong is he?
He said some of it has spread to Bexley. A Labour candidate had Tweeted four letter profanities about the Conservatives and called one a liar. “It is absolutely shameful”. Cabinet Member Read didn’t even blush.
With even more passion than usual Councillor Leaf alleged that Labour candidate Dave Putson (Belvedere) ascribed to the Prime Minister “the strong smell of the stable, pure horse expletive”. Not nice and definitely on a par with the worst of Councillor Read’s output.
There was nevertheless not a lot to disagree with in David Leaf’s speech. According to my Jewish friends Councillor Leaf is also Jewish and has every right to feel aggrieved at the behaviour of certain elements within and outside the Labour party. I have never been able to understand why Jewish people are treated so badly. My father’s best friend from the RAF was Jewish, our families used to go on holidays together. Jews are no different to any other citizen except maybe harder working.
Councillor Sharon Massey did not appear to share Councillor Leaf’s high motives, for her, hate crime was more of a personal issue. At a Scrutiny meeting she had asked the Borough Commander to have the law changed to make it easier for power-crazed Councillors to have bloggers locked away. On Wednesday we were treated to episode two.
“We all deserve to lead our lives free from discrimination, hate and harassment. Racism, homophobia and sexism is illegal but unlike you Councillor Boateng, I do not believe all residents within the borough are valued members of the community. I despise those who display hate, bully others and judge others to be worth less just because they are female or gay or judged to be an easy target just because they are perceived to be in a position of authority. For example the police, MPs, Council officers and even Councillors.”
Is despising those who display hate just another hate crime?
“Until I became involved in politics I had never been involved with sexism or harassment. In politics I have been a victim of hate and discrimination. I have been called white scum and worse. I have witnessed misogyny in this very Chamber. Members of the public write to me just to let me know they know where I live.”
“There are sadly those who operate just under the radar, just on the edge of the law, creating misery and hate around them and this sort of harassment is so much harder to stop. I consider these people to be ignorant, poorly educated and their behaviour a reflection of their own sad environment.”
“As a family we have had ridiculous lies written about us, as well as photos of our home and photos of our youngest daughter out with her friends posted on line and in blogs.” She said that Councillor Borella had apologised to her “for your role in these events”. For a moment I thought Councillor Massey was referring to me but I have no idea what Councillor Borella may or may not have done although it is a matter of record that someone referred him to the Code of Conduct Committee. The only photos I found were those posted by the Massey’s to their own Facebook page.
Councillor Massey then went on to criticise Victim Support for failing her daughter. She had wrongly believed that someone was lurking outside her home and called the contact number they had given her but they refused to help because she was a minor. Totally ridiculous but true to form. Bexley’s Victim Support refused to help Elwyn Bryant and me when we were the victim of the crime traced to Councillor Craske’s address. They said they could not be seen to criticise Bexley Council or the police.
“Whilst I support this motion we must get our own house in order." Despite her own thinly veiled attacks she added “this must not be allowed to become personal”.
Labour Leader Daniel Francis said that 25 years ago hate was definitely “prevalent on the streets of this borough”. He referred to the murder of Stephen Lawrence just across the border in Eltham and the BNP bookshop in Welling “which Bexley Council refused to close down”. Back then he had seen people “beaten to a pulp because of their colour, or their sexuality or their perceived sexuality”. I remember that, In the early 1990s I used to get all sorts of homophobic abuse and not a little violence because I was a man living alone.
In 2016 Daniel had witnessed racist songs sung in pubs. There’s another reason I am blissfully unaware of these problems. I never enter a pub in Bexley. (I don’t count the time a Councillor invited me to join him for a drink.)
Councillor Francis recounted how he “had been called a dickhead and a see you en tee by Tory Councillors in Council meetings and a member opposite had made a malicious allegation which caused him a great deal of trouble at work at a time when his wife was very seriously ill. The most disgraceful thing you could imagine and irony to say the least but fighting inequality is in our DNA.”
Continuing with the irony theme, Cabinet Member Philip Read was next to the microphone.
He recognised we lived in “a diverse society” but was particularly incensed by criticism of “those who marry outside their own community. It is disturbing and a classic example of intolerance”.
Like me he found that “most people deal with each other in a civilised way as human beings. We should not make the mistake of believing that prejudice exists everywhere”. Unlike Councillor Massey he felt “that all our residents are valued members of the community. There should be no hatred in Bexley”.
“However one of the biggest causes of division is the abuse and hatred spewed out by supporters of the Labour Party. They believe they have a monopoly on compassion and too many of them believe that anyone not in the Labour party cannot share their values. Ironically that self righteousness manifests itself in exactly the sort of behaviour they claim to reject.”
“In 2014 a black lady stood as a Conservative candidate in the North of the borough and as a result received a torrent of abuse from Labour supporters who stalked her and said she was a sell out and an Uncle Tom”.
Someone wrote “an extremely offensive blog about her and all because she is a member of the black community and had the audacity to support the Conservative Party”. I thought I read all the local blogs but apparently not. That one passed me by.
I have to say that the sort of behaviour to which Cabinet Member Read alludes is what as a young man first turned me off of Labour and it still does. Now of course I see the same from many Tories locally which gives me nowhere to go politically.
Councillor Read went on to condemn Labour’s anti-Semitism at national level. “Local members risk being tainted by association. They need to stand up and resolutely and publicly declare against it”.
Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Barnehurst) also spoke on the subject but did not say anything significant beyond repeating that “racism has no place in our society” and anti-Semitism is a very bad thing.
Councillor Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour, Erith) was given only a few seconds to speak but reported that in her ward there had been Brexit related racist abuse. Referring to the complaints made about Labour politicians she compared them with “the campaign run by Zac Goldsmith. It was one of the most racist I have ever seen”.
“David Cameron linked Sadiq Khan with Islamic extremists, that was racist as well. And let’s not forget Teresa May’s Going Home vans.”
She was also aggrieved that “a number of Councillors cannot tell the difference between the black Councillors here. We should practice what we preach”.
I fear that Councillor Oppong-Asare is doomed to disappointment. Politics is tribal.
Councillor Peter Craske managed to chip in a final word. He “believes in peace and love, not hatred”. I had no idea of that when I was accused of “Kissing in a tree” while “having a good old shag” it was intended to be an expression of love.
Thanks Peter. I didn’t know you cared.
Edward Boateng as already noted is not standing at the forthcoming election. Our paths did not cross often but when they did I could be sure of a warm welcome and a shaken hand. One of the good guys. Bexley Council badly needs some more.