Calls for inquiry and apology, resignation demands and accusations of ‘political gameplaying’ in Thanet racism row

Cllr Aram Rawf

A district councillor is calling for the issue of racism in Thanet to be raised in Parliament with a view to mounting an inquiry – but he has been accused of ‘political game-playing’ by South Thanet’s MP while another councillor has demanded he resigns.

Cllr Aram Rawf, from Broadstairs, says MP Craig Mackinlay must take urgent action to raise the issue, take part in a virtual public meeting alongside the councillor and apologise for downplaying the amount of racism on the isle.

Cllr Rawf said: “I have presented Mr Mackinlay with evidence of the racism present in our community — a racism which is deeply affecting the lives of many of his constituents. It is his duty as our MP to take action.

“Mr Mackinlay has said he can’t launch an investigation into racism here because as an MP he hasn’t got the resources. But he could undertake all the above I’m suggesting without paying a penny. I’m quite happy to organise the virtual meeting and film his apology. Raising issues in Parliament doesn’t cost him anything and is part of his job.”

Craig Mackinlay

But Mr Mackinlay has branded the request as political game-playing, saying: “I thank Cllr Rawf for his suggestions but on this important issue I will not be indulging South Thanet Labour Party’s political gameplaying.”

Earlier this month Cllr Rawf, who is a Labour member of Thanet District Council and Broadstairs Town Council, sent Mr Mackinlay (Conservative) a letter with a dossier of examples of racism in Thanet.

The letter followed comments by the MP that he had seen no evidence of racism in Thanet.

Cllr Rawf said: “I look forward to hearing from him soon with a view to constructive engagement. We cannot allow the running sore of racism to continue afflicting our community.  Too many people are getting hurt. Too many people’s lives are being made miserable. We must act now.”

Cllr Stuart Piper

Cllr Rawf’s comments on racism and Cllr Everitt’s statements about Thanet’s Black Lives Matter marches, have angered Thanet Independent group leader Stuart Piper who, at a council meeting last week, called for them to resign.

Cllr Piper said: “I do have an issue with the response to demonstrations in Thanet in defiance of Covid-19 regulations on public gatherings.”

He said Cllr Everitt’s previous comments that Thanet’s Black Lives Matter marches had been ‘dignified and orderly’  were at odds with the ‘risk’ people were taking, adding: “I would have thought a leader of this council, regardless of your own opinion, you would have roundly condemned these marches because of the unjustifiable risk people took. Covid-19 is a serious issue, it’s destructive and sometimes lethal.”

He questioned whether the same backing would be given to other demonstrations, such as women’s pension rights, in the same circumstances and said it made a nonsense of gratitude shown for all care workers who have been on the frontline.

He added: “Leader, you have chosen to support a councillor in his efforts to educate Thanet about – I quote – widespread racism in Thanet – unquote. This statement was made without the provision of evidence and I am astounded he did it and more so that you welcomed such a reckless comment that will do nothing for social cohesion in Thanet and is a slur on a great many people.

“I think the councillor should resign and wonder where that would leave the leader and should he join him?”

In response Cllr Everitt said he agreed with concerns over demonstrations being held during the pandemic but noted that they were ‘lawful and not stopped by police.’

He added: “It would not be appropriate for the leader of the council to join a demonstration during a health emergency, nevertheless they happened.”

Cllr Everitt said Cllr Rawf had presented evidence of racism in response to the request from MP Craig Mackinlay for evidence.

He added: “I do not accuse Thanet of being excessively racist but there is an issue of racism in this country and there is an issue of racism in Thanet and pretending it does not exist at all is not helpful to anyone.”

Photo Malcolm Kirkaldie

The Black Lives Matter marches in Thanet, organised by People Dem Collective, took place in June as part of global protests highlighting racism. Both marches were peaceful and no arrests were made during the events.

Former councillor Ian Driver was later arrested and charged with seven counts of criminal damage relating to anti-racist graffiti. Mr Driver told The Isle of Thanet News that what he did ‘was the right thing’ to challenge racism but he apologised to the BLM movement if his actions affected them and said he was sorry for the distress caused to his family.