By Felix Nobes and Les Reid
CONFUSION reigns as it emerged a Solihull councillor under investigation for controversial tweets about immigration remains a Conservative councillor – despite the council leader’s claims she has been suspended.
Baffled opposition councillors have called on council leader Bob Sleigh to come clean with the public, after his statement three weeks ago that Margaret Bassett had been “suspended from the Conservative group” pending the council’s probe.
Yet she remains listed on the council’s website as a Conservative councillor, while councillor Jeff Potts has been forced to become an ‘Independent’ councillor, following his similar sharing of extreme views about Muslims and immigration on Twitter.
We have learned both she and Coun Potts remain under investigation by the council’s monitoring officer.
When tackled by us, Coun Sleigh declined to explain the apparent contraditions.
We asked the council leader why Coun Bassett remained listed as a Conservative councillor, despite his previous public assurances she was suspended from the Tory group.
He said: “Yes, Margaret is suspended… from the whip.”
Asked to clarify why Coun Potts is now an ‘Independent’ when Coun Bassett is not, he added: “They’re different circumstances, but that’s as far as I’ll go again … but she’s suspended from the whip.”
Removing a whip from a politician usually means they are no longer associated with the political party or group, and become an Independent.
When pressed further, Coun Sleigh only added: “Different processes are in place. We await the results of the code of conduct inquiry. I can’t possibly predict the outcome.”
In stark contrast, his public statement of October 10 stated: “Solihull’s monitoring officer has informed me that complaints have been received concerning councillor Bassett’s use of Twitter, in particular the material she has been retweeting. I have therefore suspended Councillor Bassett from the Conservative group pending the outcome of the monitoring officer’s investigation.”
On September 27, the council confirmed complaints had been received about Coun Potts and the council’s monitoring officer would investigate under the code of conduct procedure. Its statement added: “As well as being suspended from the Tory group, he was removed from all committees, boards and external appointments.”
West Midlands Police confirmed to us this week that its separate “investigation into Jeff Potts is on-going”. It follows a complaint that his Twitter activity promoted ‘race hatred’.
Invited by us to comment this week, Liberal Democrat councillor Ade Adeyemo said it would be “helpful to get through the process as quickly as possible’.
Green councillor Max McLoughlin called on Coun Bassett to be suspended from the Tory group, and that failing to do so could be perceived as “pandering to the Islamophobic vote”.
He called on the council leader to condemn Coun Bassett’s remarks to us that it was all a ‘political witch hunt’ against her.
A mere “slap on the wrist” would not deter future conduct, he added.
Coun Potts shared remarks by other Tweeters, including: ‘Deport and repatriate all Muslims from the UK or watch terrorists kill innocent people for generations to come.’
Similarly, Coun Bassett’s retweeted comments including: “Why should thousands of lives be unnecessarily put at risk for the sake of importing ‘refugees’ from a safe country?”
Another tweet shared on her Twitter account, now deleted, was by English Defence League former leader Tommy Robinson which showed a picture of London mayor Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, and stated: “Defiant London Mayor proclaims we will not be defeated! World starts to wonder – who does he mean by we?”
The Observer has approached Coun Bassett for comment.