Opposition parties are working together in a bid to oust 'Tommy Robinson'-tweeting Tory councillor Andrew Bowles.
In a refreshing change from party-first politics, Faversham's Labour and Lib Dems have formed alliances with the Greens in the upcoming Swale Borough Council elections.
By agreeing to cooperate, they could remove council leader Bowles after 32 years as councillor for Boughton and Courtenay, just outside Faversham.
Neither the Labour Party nor the Lib Dems will field candidates in Bowles' ward. Instead, both are urging their supporters to vote for Green Party candidates Dr Alastair Gould and Tim Valentine.
They hope the combined votes will be enough to dislodge the shamed Conservative councillor, whose recent retweet championing violent racist criminal 'Tommy Robinson' caused a national scandal and prompted calls for his resignation.
Labour's Julian Saunders and Carole Jackson and Lib Dem Ben J Martin are among those calling for supporters to vote Green in Boughton and Courtenay.
In the 2015 Swale elections, Labour and Green combined got slightly fewer votes (1,400) than second placed Tory candidate George Bobbin (1,434). Coun Bowles was elected with 1,535 votes.
This time around Bobbin is standing as an Independent after being deselected by the Conservatives. With the Tories potentially splitting their own vote by putting Bobbin out to pasture and Lib Dem and Labour supporters backing the Greens, the ward could up for grabs.
Not a moment too soon, some will say. Bowles' now-infamous retweet featured Robinson's face superimposed on the poster for Mel Gibson movie The Patriot, with text whining that the far-right activist's recent bans from social media platforms for breaking hate-speech rules were a 'disgraceful injustice”.
“I actually couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Faversham Lib Dem campaigner Hannah Perkin who personally challenged coun Bowles on Twitter, asking him to delete the post and apologise. Instead, Bowles dug himself deeper, comparing questions about his judgement with censorship in 1930s Germany.
Conservative party HQ acted swiftly. As soon as the story made the Faversham Eye's website, local Kent newspapers, several national papers and Channel 4 News, it swiftly suspended Bowles then, just as swiftly, reinstated him 13 days later.
Not so much a fall from grace as a bungee-jump from disgrace, the unedifying episode was described as a ‘charade’ by Roger Truelove, Swale Borough Council Labour group leader and ‘revolving door racism’ by senior Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Miqdaad Versi from the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “It’s clear to me that the (Conservative) party wants to sweep this issue under the carpet.”
Faversham's cross-party cooperation was agreed before Bowles' online dalliance with domestic extremism. But, says Hannah Perkin: “We strongly oppose Councillor Bowles’ behaviour and his unrepentant nature. This has only furthered our resolve to support the excellent Green candidates.”
“In exchange the Green Party will not stand in Watling Ward, where we stand the best chance of winning but are in a close fight with the Conservatives.”
'Tommy Robinson' (whose real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) co-founded the far-right EDL and has earned a reputation as an ambitious political chancer. A racist and self-confessed Islamophobe with criminal convictions for fraud, assault and contempt of court, he's a popular figure among irate white-supremacist thickos, Sun-reading mouth-breathers and boggle-eyed bigots.
"The right to free speech is not the right to be given a platform,” said Faversham Lib Dem councillor Antony Hook, adding he was “very shocked” by Bowles' actions.
"Robinson is a convicted criminal, a well-documented racist and has a history of violence and inciting hatred towards people on account of their religion.”
Eventually forced to issue an apology (of sorts), Bowles pleaded ignorance of Robinson's neofascist agenda, claiming: “I wasn't supporting him. I was supporting freedom of speech.”
However, unless he’s secretly a card-carrying member of Amnesty International, Mr Bowles’ Twitter feed would indicate his free speech crusade is a very recent phenomenon that begins and ends with the supposed rights of ‘Tommy Robinson’ to use social media to incite religious hatred.
There is, of course, a world of difference between free speech and hate speech. Yet, like one of those unfortunate arrivals in A&E who insist the household object jammed up their colon is the innocent consequence of a freak nude-housework mishap, Bowles adhered desperately to his unconvincing explanation.
During his blink-and-you'll-miss-it suspension, councillor Bowles received an entire morning’s training on ‘diversity and dignity’, two subjects he should really have acquainted himself with before opening a Twitter account.
Swale's not-looking-like-a-racist for beginners course rattled through the topics of equality, discrimination, harassment, victimisation, disability discrimination, positive action and avoiding stereotyping and prejudice. And in case Bowles accidentally belched up any more far-right bile on Twitter, it also included ‘refresher training’ on the council’s social media policy guidelines.
But it was all too much for Bowles to digest. At the next Swale Borough Council meeting, just weeks later, he said he 'couldn’t remember’ what his social media training involved.
Quizzed by Independent Swale Councillor Monique Bonney about his Twitter adventures, Bowles stuck to his ‘freedom of speech’ story with an unwavering insistence that would credit a casualty patient with a lightbulb up his bottom.
“I do not accept that either the post was highly inappropriate or that it has brought this Council into disrepute,” he insisted.
And displaying a level of contrition that suggests Swale's racist councillor retraining scheme isn't up to much, he instead blamed those who reported him.
“I personally believe an argument could be made that the two individuals who submitted the original complaints to both Conservative Central Office and Kent County Council for what were plainly politically purposes could be construed as having brought Swale Borough Council into disrepute,” he said. And it’s true, such an argument could be made. By a cretin.
And as if trying to show just what a dead-cert vote-winner racist dog-whistling can be, Bowles bragged: “I can state that since my suspension has been lifted, I have been actively canvassing on the doorstep and have to say that my personal approval rating has never been as high!"
If true, 'Tommy Robinson' will be delighted. If not, Yaxley-Lennon's loss might just prove the Green Party's gain.
IRRITABLE BOWLES SYMPTOMS A doctor writes Causes: Highly infectious and caused by sucking up to prominent racists. • Early symptoms: Strange hair growth on upper lip just below the nostrils, spasms causing the right arm to jerk straight and a love of highly polished boots. • Treatment: Indian curry, African tea, French wine, Italian Pizza, Spanish holidays, Chinese takeaway and reading some history books to learn that but for Indian soldiers and Polish pilots we would all be speaking German. • General patient advice: There is a current outbreak in the area with claims that the patient is better after a miracle cure. Best advice is avoid all contact.