Friday, 5 August 2011

Round-up: Reactions to Swaine's return

#rdgpol - Controversial Katesgrove Councillor Warren Swaine has had his party membership reinstated after a drawn-out suspension lasting six months.

At a 2 1/2 hour hearing in front of LibDem officials in Basingstoke last Tursday he was asked to provide a detailed explanation for a light-hearted remark published on Twitter on 27th January during a #bbcqt session.

In an interview with Linda Fort he conceded, "If you have to explain a joke to that extent, then you probably shouldn't have made it."

The complaint which started the process was issued by former Labour Mayor of Reading and RCRE director Rajinder Sohpal, who suggested the intention was malicious, and commented sourly on the party order to undertake a course of diversity training, "It's the least he should do."

Cllr Swaine also gave a widely reported formal 'unreserved apology' (Reading LibDems, Reading Post, Reading Chronicle, LibDem Voice) in which he admitted his recklessness commenting in a way which could be misinterpreted as designed to cause offence - "that was never intended."

But there was clear personal relief that his part in the process was over as the fearless local satirist announced in a return to form, "The Independent Party in Reading is no more."

However the process suffered hold-ups and has not yet fully concluded, as a party spokesperson explained, "During the investigation into a comment by Cllr Warren Swaine, a number of other complaints and allegations came to light, which fell outside of the scope of the original investigation."

This has sparked rumours of a 'cover-up' and a new 'comprehensive' investigation has been launched "to ensure that all issues are investigated and dealt with in a robust manner."

These 'other issues' include further complaints to Reading Borough Council's Standards Board and the English Standards Board. They were not upheld and no further action was taken, although he was reprimanded for breaching the councillors code when he tweeted about a member of the public gallery during a full council session.

Cllr Swaine explained that although the individual was technically a member of the public he is a former Labour councillor and had declared himself as a candidate for local elections, making this something of a grey area at the time. He promised to be more careful in future, saying, "I hold my hand up to that one."

Hugh Muir says the whole affair has caused "a headache for party bosses."

He offers the interesting counterpoint that Cllr Swaine could have had a stronger impact had he not strayed into the politically sensitive territory of racial terminology. He suggests more effective words to put into the Labour MP's mouth for his ineffectual defence of a ridiculous policy would be: "Is it because I is a half-wit?"

The Grim Reaper described the original scene, "[Cllr Swaine] was getting extremely worked up over comments being made by Chuka Umunna MP. This is understandable, as [he] does seem to have that effect." adding his own judgement on the now-notorious tweet, "Moderately amusing, but the great comedians of our time can sleep easy at night."

LibDem blogger Spiderplant Land is confused about the matter, and says she'll need to lie down in a darkened room before passing judgement:
"Half of me thinks there is more to this than meets the eye and we should all take a step back, the other thinks we look like we are protecting a councillor who made a racist comment and I can't condone that."
Clearly she agrees that her party is taking the correct course of action and a further investigation is in order.

She is also concerned about how Labour activists have been attempting to make partisan capital out of the matter. Her ire is particularly drawn to Political Scrapbook - as its' name suggests it has made a variety of over-the-top and provocative claims gleaned from tidbits and gossip.

PS says that Cllr Swaine was 'fired' from his position rather resigning, then reinstated 'quietly' in order to "sneak the news of his return out at the beginning of silly season", not only "without making an apology", but refusing to do so for the whole period and with support from party leaders.

PS then followed up with the 'revelation' that the new investigation would be undertaken into the 'botched handling' of the affair as leading members of the LibDems Black and Ethnic Minority Forum expressed their dissatisfaction that issues of race remain in society.

Indeed, Duwayne Brooks, who was present when his friend the teenage Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a brutal racist attack and subsequently became a LibDem councillor in Lewisham, suggested he would reconsider his own membership if the party were found to support people who exhibit unapologetic racist behaviour.

Simon Woolley at ethnic minority campaigning organisation Operation Black Vote uses the incident to complain about the lack of progress on diversity, quoting senior LibDem Cllr Lester Holloway, but is clearly influenced by the more extreme reaction from PS. Simon finds it difficult to believe no offence was intended, arguing somewhat strongly, "It is incredible how local parties refuse to effectively deal with these simple matters."

Local Green Party chairperson, Adrian Windisch, also tips his hat to PS, repeating a succession of sensationalised points before concluding, "we may have reached the point where the handling is as damaging as the original remark," before going on to praise the bravery of Cllr Swaine for his apology.

Meanwhile praise is also forthcoming from the other side of the political spectrum, this time from Conservative Cllr Isobel Ballsdon. As she explains,
"Reading's Labour Group would really like Cllr Warren Swaine to shut up... Time after time they've made complaints about him and tried to discredit him. More fool them."
"Why?" she asks, "because he keeps on embarrassing them [...] with what he digs up."

On his own blog Cllr Swaine continues his barrage of attacks against Labour, this time at their "use [of] the local Standards Board as an instrument of suppression and oppression."

He fired back,
"Over the last year there has been a string of referrals about me from Labour councillors, union officials and their election candidates where I have exposed their hypocrisy, double standards, bare-faced lies and borderline illegality. These referrals have been made with only one aim - to shut me up."
Warren describes that this is a deliberate tactic on their behalf as the boards are required not only to consider the seriousness of a complaint, but also the volume of complaints made against an individual - something which incentivises frivolous time-wasting and gross exaggeration.

It sounds like there may be more to come!

Oranjepan says:
This story has been a journalistic jackpot - an incendiary indiscretion by a local public figure highlighting the increasing relevance of social media to political debate which handily required no further background checks and snowballed interactively into a campaigning issue as various vested interest groups were mobilised.

But perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this tale was Cllr Swaine's apparent ignorance or indifference towards the man he was criticising and which allowed his usual fearlessness to spill over into recklessness: Chuka Umunna MP has been touted in a variety of corners as a future leader of his party, and therefore potentially the first coloured Prime Minister of this country - which would undoubtedly provide him with an army of vocal defenders prepared to strike out at the merest slight.

Interestingly the saga bears comparison with a much more serious recent incident relating to three Newbury Town Councillors.


Previously: Councillor resigns under firestorm; Debating language


  1. Anyone who thinks that Cllr Swaine is a racist is a fool!

    The joke was from Ali G, are we to start a witch hunt against him too now?

    CLLR SWAINE apologised at the time and HE resigned as a Lead member. So PS should probably get their facts right. Short of flogging himself in the street I'm not sure what else he could Have done.


    would seem to suggest that the reponse to anon 1122 is the same as Swaine's "apology" - complete bullshit.


"Reading List... is fantastic, it could help revolutinise politics in Reading"
Matt Blackall

Matt Brady

Adrian Windisch

Reading Geek Night

"A bloggers digest of the Berkshire blogosphere"

"An easily accessible collection of Berkshire's excellent blogs"
The Cookham Blogger

"An excellent digest of the thoughts of local bloggers"
Reading Guide