Bexley Council rules out mandatory racism training over controversial tweets

One of Bexley’s senior councillors has expressed his “regret” over a Conservative colleague’s social media posts referencing “black on black” knife crime, but has ruled out mandatory racism training for elected members.

The tweets, posted last month by Conservative ward member for West Heath John Davey, were alluded to in a question by Labour Councillor Mabel Ogundayo at July’s full meeting of Bexley Council.

Cllr Ogundayo asked cabinet member for communities, Cllr Alex Sawyer, whether he would recommend “mandatory training on racism” after referring to Cllr Davey’s tweets.

She referenced two posts from Cllr Davey, published last month, the first of which was a response to an action plan she had posted online to tackle racism in the borough. Cllr Davey had replied to her plan by posting: “What a load of old rubbish”.

This Is Local London: One of the posts referenced by Cllr Ogundayo.

One of the posts referenced by Cllr Ogundayo.

His second tweet in response to her said: “The UK and Bexley in particular are the most tolerant in the world. You should worry about the Mayor of London’s failure to stop knife crime, much of it black on black”.

Cllr Ogundayo referred to both messages before asking Cllr Sawyer: “Does the cabinet member agree that all councillors should undertake mandatory training on racism to demonstrate a willingness to begin to address any racism that may exist in our midst?”

Cllr Sawyer responded that he didn’t “know the identify of that particular councillor and I’m not asking Cllr Ogundayo to share it”.

“I think it is incumbent upon all representatives of the council, whatever their political party, to be mindful of what we say,” he followed.

“I think sometimes it is very easy to say things that perhaps we don’t believe offend people, but none the less they do offend people and it’s not necessarily what we say, it’s how we say it.”

However, he backed away from her question on whether training should be implemented.

“Do I believe that all members should undertake training? I’d like to think that members don’t necessarily need to undertake training,” he told the virtual meeting.

“Do I regret the use of language that particular councillor said? Yes, absolutely.

“Racism, intolerance, inequality can never be called ‘a load of rubbish’, it is our job as elected representatives to do right by our residents…my role as cabinet member for communities is to look at all communities across our borough without fear or favour and certainly not favouring one over the other.

“So I don’t necessarily believe all members should undertake training, I believe we need to be mindful with what we say.”

 

One of the tweets referred to in the meeting.

Cllr Ogundayo’s question came after Cllr Sawyer had been asked how welcoming the borough is to residents of “all communities”.

He highlighted the growing diversity of the borough, and referenced how volunteers of various backgrounds came forward to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bexley is a diverse borough. We are the eighteenth fastest changing borough in the Kingdom,” he said.

“We have an increasingly growing number of communities and faiths, and I believe it is a testament to our fair-minded attitude that we can live next to neighbours of all colours and faiths and live in perfect harmony.”

He said the community’s response to a call to arms at the start of the pandemic “reminded us whatever our background, we’re united in our common endeavour”.

“The colour of a person’s skin, background or faith mattered not to the 1000-plus volunteers who came forward,” Cllr Sawyer finished.

Following the meeting, Cllr Davey told the local democracy reporting service that he was a “firm believer in equality and supported the concept of Black Lives Matter”, but said the “perfectly reasonable idea” had been taken over by “extremist left-wing people”.

“As far as Bexley is concerned, it is true that there is racism in Bexley and any racism is totally unacceptable, but I still maintain the vast majority of Bexley’s residents are not racist and value people from other backgrounds living here, as I do,” he added.

He also attempted to clarify his comments regarding knife crime, as well as his thoughts on the suggestion of training.

“As far as gang and knife crime in London is concerned, I am very worried that this is unacceptably high and the Mayor of London has not got control of it. It is a sad fact that many of the victims are black and having spoken with relatives, they have had their lives devastated by this,” he said.

“As far as training is concerned, I agree with Cllr Sawyer. These are sensitive issues and it is easy to cause unintended offence which is always regrettable, but they are also issues that must not be ignored or they will never be solved and we all want a society free of racism.”

Cllr John Davey’s statement in full: 

“I am a firm believer in equality and support the concept of Black Lives Matter. However, I am saddened that a perfectly reasonable idea was taken over by some extremist left-wing people when many other moderate people support BLMBLM. This has had the unintended result of increasing division in our society, when we should be working to reduce any racism.

“As far as Bexley is concerned, it is true that there is racism in Bexley and any racism is totally unacceptable, but I still maintain the vast majority of Bexley’s residents are not racist and value people from other backgrounds living here, as I do. There were far more problems locally when the BNP were involved here, but I am thankful to say that I have seen a continuing decline in support for right-wing extremism when I talk to people on the doorstep. However, any support is too much and we are working to reduce support.

“As far as gang and knife crime in London is concerned, I am very worried that this is unacceptably high and the Mayor of London has not got control of it. It is a sad fact that many of the victims are black and having spoken with relatives, they have had their lives devastated by this. That is why I am confident that our Candidate Shaun Bailey will do a far better job tackling this serious problem.

“As far as training is concerned, I agree with Cllr Sawyer. These are sensitive issues and it is easy to cause unintended offence which is always regrettable, but they are also issues that must not be ignored or they will never be solved and we all want a society free of racism.”

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