“Southend’s Tory leader urged to step down in Facebook ‘race row’ fury” is the headline to one of the main stories in today’s Southend Echo.
I have stepped away from local politics in recent months, but thought to wade in here because I know all of the councillors mentioned in the article and the subject of racism or political correctness (label depends on where one stands on such matters) is a controversial topic that often crops up today and one where I have a view, along the lines racism is egregiously wrong but stop making a meal out of it and consider other social evils that beset our society.
The crime or misdemeanour (if that is what it was) was when “Mr Flewitt had posted a news story about Chinese company Huawei on his Facebook page. He then liked a comment which read: “You can’t trust these with sweet and sour dog, let alone national security.”” This caused a hiatus among certain fellow councillors from the opposing parties and political daggers were drawn along with acrimonious exchanges, with both sides getting on their moral high horses. There is a lot more to the story I don’t know, but I will offer a view, based on what I do know.
The Huawei story I can only guess at, but my view is allowing them to have a major stake in our UK telecommunications network would be disastrous. The comment, by whoever, was daft and Mr Flewitt might be better advised before liking anything comparable in future (for one thing it might have stopped handbags at dawn – although thinking about how peoples’ minds work, they might have got him on something else). As for Mark Flewitt, some fifteen years ago I was a member of the Council Diversity Board that he chaired. I knew from that time Mark is not a racist and his actions made an important contribution to furthering good race relations in the town.
As for Matt Dent and Martin Terry’s criticism of Martin Flewitt having the temerity of actually liking a Facebook comment that might be construed as racist, they are of course at liberty to do so, although I am inclined to a view they probably went too far in making this an issue, especially given from past dealings with both men, they have both made daft comments. From what I can make out, compared with some of the stuff they have said in the past that people have felt hurt by, that is worse than liking a silly comment that I am not even sure is racist. Given neither men follow the Law of God (correct me if I am wrong) what basis, other than their opinion and following the crowd because it is the woke thing to do these days, have they to say racism is worse than abortion, or being nasty to people who cross them?
I think Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, should have the last word even though I have no interest in siding with him over anyone else (he also gets my champagne moment award for his way with words and because he understands a change for the worse (imho) is taking place in our society): “Mr Cox said the whole affair was “shameful” and “race-baiting” and labelled Mr Terry a “hypocrite” saying he had once called all travellers “dangerous”. Mr Cox said: “What I have seen here now is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. “If I had thought I have a member of my group was a racist, they would be turfed out immediately.” Mr Cox said that what the council has is “censorship, wokeness and political correctness” and that it was “authoritarianism cloaked as moral righteousness”. He added: “The use of barristers to investigate the liking of a Facebook comment, taxpayers will be rightly concerned over the blasé use of taxpayer money.”
We are in a danger of free speech being supressed and I for one welcome these councillors offering widely differing views – and who is to say which one (if any) is right? I think there are serious issues facing Southend as it comes out of lockdown and seeks to recover. I have a deal of respect for Cllrs: Flewitt, Cox, Terry and Dent, irrespective of where they stand politically and, let’s face it, all of us have probably avoidably upset someone on Facebook (I know I have). I say stop political play acting and focus on what really matters – making our town a better place to live in.