Cowley Street officials yesterday launched a “comprehensive investigation” into Reading Liberal Democrats over the botched handling of a race row, Political Scrapbook can reveal. The decision to welcome back Cllr Warren Swaine without an apology for offensive comments to a mixed-race Labour MP left black party members exasperated, with one senior councillor threatening to resign.

Rather than address concerns, however, local group leader Daisy Benson attempted to sweep the crisis under the carpet by ignoring phone and email messages on the subject. Swaine’s belated apology — some SIX MONTHS after his “is it because I is black” remark — may now do little to placate ethnic minority members.

Lewisham councillor Duwayne Brooks was reported to be considering his position this week, while his Sutton colleague Lester Holloway told Operation Black Vote:

“This is not just about Swaine, many of us in the party are completely frustrated with the lack of progress the party is making on the diversity front. These incidents remind us just how far we have to go both on a local and national level.”

With the episode likely to be raised at party conference in September, Reading councillors will now find themselves under scrutiny by figures from across the country:

“The English Party … has now launched a further, comprehensive investigation into the local party and the local council group to ensure that all issues are investigated and dealt with in a robust manner. This investigation will draw on expertise from other regions, including London.”

To think this could have all been avoided with a timely and heartfelt apology.

  1. Jeremy Saxman says:

    Oh please, the race card seems to be pulled out at any given opportunity these days. Why the hell are these other councillors thinking of quitting? It’s hardly like the Lib Dems have morphed into the British version of the Ku Klux Klan!

    These people need to speak to their family and friends who experienced England during the 60’s and 70’s to find out what true racism was like!

  2. Duwayne appears to feel “the lack of progress the party is making on the diversity front”.
    ie they are not electing more BEMs
    Really, The Libdems aren’t making progress on any front ATM.
    Big Clue, they aren’t electing any-one.

  3. Being a local resident, I am aware of this case and further attempts by this individual to openly being racist under the auspices of his mix-heritage. It is a shame that the Party did not ask him to apologise as part of his reprimand, basically helped him to get away from this and other misbehavior. After pressure from local media, we now see a flat apology, but knowing him, I don’t think he means it.

  4. Jeremy Saxman,

    If the Liberal Democrat Party wishes to be an Anti-Racist organisation then it needs to learn from the experiences of its current and potential members, and most of all from history.

    In the words of the German anti-Nazi activist, Pastor Martin Niemöller:

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the communists
    and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me –
    and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

    Bigotry will not be eradicated from society by merely spouting pleasant rhetoric, action is actually required. As a Liberal Democrat who has been and remains involved in championing equality and diversity I cannot over emphasise the need for the Party to be seen to be actually ‘walking the talk’.

    Re “These people need to speak to their family and friends who experienced England during the 60′s and 70′s to find out what true racism was like!”… many of us actually lived through these times, and yes outwardly society does appear to have changed, but sadly not enough. Those of us who have the privilege of living in our ‘middle class’ cocoons and have minority ethnic ancestry may think that things have improved radically, but the advocacy work that I do, and I am aware of, indicates that for the victims of racism, NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

    If the Party does not demonstrate that it is has the stomach to deal with its rogue members, and aid going to radically change, then Duwayne Brooks will not be the only person who shreds their membership card.

  5. Ayotunde Ologun says:

    @Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera:

    Would you not agree that by potentially quitting, these councillors are giving in to the racist minority? And I truly believe that it is a minority. I have never experienced prejudice from any of my white friends and colleagues towards me or any other person of colour. The most racial negativity that I have witnessed from them has been aimed at the economic migrants that have flooded the UK, particularly in the last 5-10 years, but more so at those taking advantage of the welfare system.

    With regards to Cllr Swaine’s comments, although I don’t agree with them and his reprimanding should have come much sooner, I believe that he is highlighting a hypersensitivity to racism that has become apparent particularly amongst recent generations.

    In my workplace, I have noticed some of my white senior colleagues taking the soft approach towards my coloured colleagues who are either underperforming or require some form of discipline and I truly believe it is because they fear being branded racist. This hypersensitivity comes from both white and coloured groups and I really wish it would stop as I believe they look for any microcosm to ignite and stoke these “racist” situations and make them much, much worse than they really are.

    We should be grateful that there are now laws and support groups available to protect those true victims of racial hatred and discrimination. And those of us that have never experienced true visceral racism should be thankful that we have never had to endure that cruelty and should continue to live in peace and harmony alongside others regardless of skin colour or place of birth.

  6. Whilst Ayotunde is defensive about his white colleagues, he is actually calling them racists by showing negativity towards new migrants (on economic grounds, of course). No one needs to fear if they are not being racist, the terminology means comparing like-to-like behavior. I think most of the people, black or white, are non-racist (the word ‘coloured’ is offensive), but we all know that racism exists in our civilised society. It is a false pretend to think we are living in a perfect world, wherever you live!

  7. Harish, I don’t see why ordinary British citizens should be labelled racist because they don’t like the idea of foreigners coming into their country with the sole purpose of claiming welfare benefits.

    Assuming Ayotunde is of black African origin, is it okay for him to use the term ‘colored’? What if his other colleagues are non-white and non-blacks, what would be the appropriate term to describe those who fit neither category? Also, if the term ‘colored’ is so offensive maybe somebody should inform the NAACP.

    I take it you probably fall into the hypersensitive group of people that Ayotunde refers to?

  8. Ayotunde Ologun, I live a terribly middle class existence in a green and leafy part of the country where overt racism is not common place, but sadly as a result of the work that I do (both current and past), I am only too aware that racism is an everyday occurrence.

    As for “The most racial negativity that I have witnessed from them has been aimed at the economic migrants that have flooded the UK, particularly in the last 5-10 years, but more so at those taking advantage of the welfare system” this could have been written by the Daily Mail or Express.

    As a former police officer, I am rather keen on evidence, and when challenged people have great difficulty ‘coming up with the goods’ when asked about providing evidence to support the myth that economic migrants are flocking to the UK to abuse our welfare system.

    Some people may feel that I am as you describe as “hypersensitive”, perhaps I am, and I would not wish to change, for bigotry of any kind is wrong, whether it be on grounds of ones race, or sexuality, religion, disability, age, etc.

    As for managers mismanaging specifically visible minority ethnic staff members, this was highlighted within ‘The Morris Inquiry’, 2004 . It is well worth a read. The Inquiry found that for many reasons, and fear was identified as one, white managers had difficulty in challenging the behaviour of visible minority ethnic staff. Their subsequent punished such staff members disproportionately when they eventually did respond.

    On the issue of the ‘hypersensitive’ types ‘playing the race card’ or otherwise inflaming a situation on grounds of their ethnicity, I have never come across this situation, and I have been involved in countless advocacy cases within the police service and externally.

    Heidi S

    re “Assuming Ayotunde is of black African origin, is it okay for him to use the term ‘colored’? What if his other colleagues are non-white and non-blacks, what would be the appropriate term to describe those who fit neither category? Also, if the term ‘colored’ is so offensive maybe somebody should inform the NAACP”

    I personally do not use the term coloured, as it is deemed here in the UK as offensive, when referring to visible minority ethnic or as is common place in the USA ‘people of colour’. In a political sense I would generally use the term Black, but people who are not involved in the politics of ‘race’ may also find this as offensive, although I cannot understand why.

    Within the National Black Police Association, for which I was the General Secretary between 1999 and 2003 we defined Black as being someone of African, African Caribbean or Asian ancestry, and share a common experience of racism. Note this does not mention whether the person in question white, black or for that matter any other colour, merely that they have a shared experience and that their ancestry has certain roots. I have personally supported a number of white police officers who have been subject of racism.

    Sadly racism is alive and well, and after thirty years of heightened awareness within the police service, starting with the Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton Riots in 1981, it is still very prevalent both within the service as well as within wider society.

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