PRESSURE is mounting on Solihull’s ruling Conservatives to suspend councillor Margaret Bassett amid the ongoing row about hers and colleagues’ social media activity which promoted extreme views about immigration.
As the Observer revealed last week, she defended her controversial re-tweets on Twitter and accused opponents of conducting a ‘political witch hunt’.
It came as her colleague, councillor Jeff Potts (Knowle), apologised for what have been widely intepreted to be his ‘anti-muslim’ and immigration retweets of extremists’ views.
The Conservative group at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council relinquished the party whip and his is now an ‘independent’ councillor, pending further investigation.
Green party councillor Max McLoughlin (Shirley South) is to call a debate in the chamber at a full council meeting tomorrow calling on a need for greater tolerance among councillors of people from all communities and walks of life.
He told the Solihull Observer: “It would be appropriate for the Conservative group to suspend Margaret Bassett (Silhill) as well while they investigate.
“I do not think her re-tweets were as bad as those of Jeff Potts but some of her tweets were unacceptable.”
He added: “There has been a problem in the Conservative group in terms of tolerance and diversity.
“There have been Islamphobic views expressed, with Jeff Potts being a prime example. But there is spectrum in the Conservative party, and some people are very much on the outside of where the Conservatives would like them to be.
“This motion is about not discriminating against groups of people.
“It’s important this goes further, with all councillors accepting they have a responsibility to address discrimination where they see it.
“This hasn’t happened. A number of Conservative councillors had been following these tweets and hadn’t addressed it. They had for six months been looking at those comments on Twitter.
“I personally think it is right to give Jeff Potts the opportunity to stand down rather than the rest of the council removing him. The appropriate course would be for him to stand down.
“I don’t feel that Margaret Bassett has shown any contrition in saying it’s a witch hunt’.”
Coun McLoughlin’s notice of motion on tomorrow’s agenda reads: “Solihull council is proud of the diversity among our borough’s residents, visitors and people who work here. This council reaffirms its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. As civic leaders, we commit to stand up against discrimination and will speak out against any form of discrimination if we come across it.”
Police said last week they were investigating Coun Potts’ tweets after a formal complaint on ‘racial hatred grounds’.
It follows controversy earlier in the summer over Solihull councillor Ken Hawkins retweeting a photograph of protesters calling for justice over the Grenfell fire tragedy.
The former mayor added: “Lets get ourselves a hangin!”
UPDATE. TODAY’S COUNCIL MOTION UNANIMOUSLY SUPPORTED
Conservative councillors at Tuesday’s council debate spoke of Solihull and the council as places that welcomes diversity and are committed to tackling all types of discrimination.
Councillor Karen Grensell said: “We welcome and value people of all faiths here in Solihull.”
Councillor Diana Holl-Allan said: “When I first came here, prejudice was unbelievable. We’ve come a long way. We’ve learned so much from what we see through the media. The world is a fast-moving place.
“I am not good with computers.. For those people who do a lot of social media, please let’s learn from what’s happened in the last few weeks, and be very careful when we do tweet and send things on to each other.”
Councillor Ken Meeson said he was proud of the council’s work in “combatting discrimination and racism”. He referenced work in designating children of asylum seekers as Looked After Children unlike some other councils, a Syrian families project through children’s services, and an “active LBGT network”.
Councillor Ian Courts broadened the need to combat discrimination to elderly people and others.
But councillor Ade Abeyemo (Lib Dem) said: “Taking no action is not acceptable.
“Action must be taken to send out the message this is not a racist place and that racism in any form will not be tolerated.”
Councillor James Burn (Green) welcomed the comments, but added: “I’ve heard some people here saying that they didn’t think there was much wrong here. We can do more.”
His Green party colleague’s motion which called on the council to re-affirm its commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity was unanimously formally supported.