By Richard Fleury
Despite angry calls for his resignation, Swale Borough Council Leader Andrew Bowles has refused to apologise for a tweet supporting convicted criminal and racist agitator ‘Tommy Robinson’.
Conservative councillor Bowles, a farmer who represents the Boughton and Courtenay ward just outside Faversham, retweeted a post promoting Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – as a ‘patriot’.
Yaxley-Lennon, a small-time convicted crook and former jailbird with a criminal record for assault, mortgage fraud and contempt of court, has gained national notoriety as a far-right peddler of anti-muslim hate.
A former member of the British National Party and co-founder of the English Defence League, Yaxley-Lennon was this week banned from Facebook and Instagram for life after breaking policies around hate-speech: material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence against muslims.
One right-wing tweet bearing a photoshopped image of Yaxley-Lennon as a rifle-carrying soldier flanked by waving Union Jack and St George’s Cross flags, declared:
Now reporting Tommy Robinson banned from Instagram and Facebook….this comes directly from the BBC. The reason he’s racist to Muslims. This corruptness needs to stop Tommy is a Patriot. RT & TWEET about this disgraceful injustice.
Obligingly, Coun Bowles did just that. When appalled constituents confronted him over his apparent support for ‘Tommy’, he refused to apologise and even compared the criticism to censorship in Nazi Germany.
‘Robinson’ himself was banned from Twitter last year, after violating rules governing “hateful conduct”.
His Facebook ban comes just weeks after a rape charity was bombarded with racist abuse from ‘Robinson’ supporters after he shared pictures of its leaflet offering to help women from ethnic minorities.
Andrew Bowles’ retweeted support for racist extremist Yaxley-Lennon comes at a time when Kent faces a disturbing epidemic of race-related attacks. The rate of reported hate crime in Kent has quadrupled since 2013-2014, while in the rest of the UK it was slightly more than double.
Unsurprisingly, Bowles’ tweet has left many people disgusted and shocked, with many demanding the councillor apologises immediately or steps down from Swale Borough Council.
Faversham’s Lib Dem Swale Councillor Antony Hook said: “Like many people, I was shocked today that the Leader of Swale Council Andrew Bowles re-tweeted support for Tommy Robinson, including calling him “a patriot”.
“Robinson is a convicted criminal and a racist. There is nothing “patriotic” about his far right views.
“I have asked Bowles to make clear he does not support Robinson and is not, as may appear, trying to get Robinson’s racist supporters to vote Conservative. In the absence of him doing so, I have called on the Kent Conservative Party to take action against Bowles. Paul Carter and Helen Whately must step up.”
Kent County Council Conservative leader Paul Carter has been asked to withdraw the whip from Mr Bowles and say that support for Tommy Robinson does not represent the Kent Conservative Party. And several complaints have been made to Faversham’s Conservative MP Helen Whately.
But unrepentant Bowles has so far refused to apologise for the offensive tweet, even telling Kent Online: “It is something out of nothing – there are bigots on both sides of the equation.”
A Swale Borough Council spokesperson said: “We have received a complaint and will be looking into the matter in line with our usual processes.”
Councillor Bowles told The Faversham Eye he would not apologise for the tweet and would not be standing down or resigning before local elections in May.
Claiming he was being attacked by the ‘liberal left’ for ‘defending free speech’, he added: “I oppose all extreme views and all racism. Tommy Robinson may well have views some find offensive. However he has the same right to be heard as any of us as long as he doesn’t promote illegal actions.”
Should anyone wish to make their own complaint about Coun Bowles, please follow this link on Swale Borough Council’s website for more information: https://www.swale.gov.uk/