Councillor Warren Swaine reinstated after Twitter race row

Reading Councillor Warren Swaine has had his Liberal Democrat membership restored after being accused of making a racist remark about a Labour MP in February – but will have to complete diversity training if he wishes to be an officer for the Liberal Democrat council group.

The Reading Chronicle reports:

The Lib Dems’ South Central office announced today that Reading borough councillor, Warren Swaine, who represents Katesgrove ward, will have to undergo diversity training if he wants to be a spokesman for the group in the next two years.

The decision comes more than five months after Cllr Swaine was suspended for putting a message on the social networking website while Labour’s mixed-race Streatham MP, Chuka Umunna, appeared on BBC One’s Question Time.

Cllr Swaine tweeted: “I’m waiting for the Labour guy to claim ‘is it because I is black?’ as a defense [sic] for being a muppet.”

Read the full story at the Reading Chronicle.

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29 Comments

  • I remember this…

    Philip Rolle
    Posted 1st March 2011 at 12:02 am
    Can someone please explain to me why this was racist?

    Philip Rolle
    Posted 1st March 2011 at 7:19 pm
    I’m still waiting!

    David Evans
    Posted 1st March 2011 at 7:46 pm
    How about because Liberal Democrat national office act like a bunch of automatons, who can only follow absolute rules and haven’t the wisdom to be able to balance different people’s liberties – i.e. the liberty to demonstrate that someone has a robust sense of humour, and the liberty for someone else to take offense.

    Philip Rolle
    Posted 1st March 2011 at 11:54 pm
    Yep, politically correct automatons. I await the outcome of the national office’s “investigation” with interest. My conclusion is that they have made the party appear illiberal and idiotic.

  • This doesn’t sound like something or someone the Liberals should be proud of.

  • Hmmm, not convinced he should have his membership restored….

  • Duwayne Brooks 30th Jul '11 - 10:32am

    People like him should not be in this party. So let me make this clear. If this party is going to support people like Cllr Swaine I will have no choice but to reconsider my membership.

    I have yet to see an apology from Cllr Swaine to the party and to Chuka. If it has not happened yet, it better be in process.

  • Fair comment Duwayne, and perhaps it should in fact have been made a condition of his reinstatement. Lets see what happens. However having seen so many comments by politicians, including Lib Dems on Facebook and Twitter, I think we need to keep reminding our colleagues using social media that flippant comments which may be offensive are not acceptable. Debate is fair and right, abuse is not.

  • @Duwayne
    I would’ve thought that a suitably grovelling public apology would have been a basic condition of his reinstatement. Has it not happened? If not, it’s not good enough for it to be ‘in process’, it should take place before he gets his membership back.

  • Isn’t the ending of someone’s suspension automatic after a disciplinary hearing if they don’t have their membership revoked? Is it possible to make it conditional on an apology?

    Does our disciplinary procedure have different penalties depending on how many complainants there are? It is normal in employment disciplinary procedures to give written warnings and only after so many written warnings can somone be dismissed (our parallel being having their membership terminated).

  • Spot on Duwayne. Unfortunately it looks like Cllr Swaine is a serial offender, from some of the things he’s said since.

  • If he has not made a grovelling apology it is astonishing that we are permitting him to retain his membership. We all do and say stupid things, but stupidity should have consequences.

  • LibDemMember 30th Jul '11 - 5:32pm

    Anonymously, I would say that I do understand why Duwayne is so upset. Duwayne, we cannot afford to lose you, so I very much hope that you stay. The party is not racist. The party is just a bit literal-minded sometimes in how it deals with offensive remarks that people have made, including things that are racist. The party bends over backwards to be ‘fair’, and thus defends the right to free speech of party colleagues who say offensive things. It is ridiculously difficult to chuck offensive idiots out of the party, including when they say racist things. Most employers would sack a racist Tweeter for “bringing the company into disrepute”. Our liberalism should not preclude us from thinking politically and thus sometimes throwing people out. I understand that there is a procedure that must be followed. If this guy DID send this tweet, he should have been expelled. It is mealy-mouthed and pedantic to pretend otherwise. Fortunately, there are only a tiny number of such people in the party. But, as a party, we have to be a bit tougher about throwing these people out sometimes. We are a political party, a weapon of political war, a corporate body that people choose to sign up to, especially if they become elected representatives – we are not a vehicle for unlimited, personal freedom of expression.

  • Ruth Bright 30th Jul '11 - 5:53pm

    South Central eh? An officer of my local party sent out a group e-mail about with derogatory remarks about gypsies and East European immigrants. A complaint to Tim Farron resulted in a response within hours but two months later South Central have done sweet FA.

  • Philip Rolle 30th Jul '11 - 7:32pm

    Compulsory diversity training? I hope he’ll tell them where to stick it.

  • Phillip Rolle, it is racist because it is using somebody’s ethnicity to counter their argument rather than challenging it on its own grounds.

  • Philip Rolle,

    Well if he does and the party refuses to do anything about it then I think the party will have a massive headache.

    Racist, homophobic etc etc comments publicly made by any elected person in this party will be stamped on by me. I don’t care who they are or how long they have been a member.

    Zero tolerance and I intend to enforce that.

    Dave. I will be speaking to the local party this week. Please send me any links you have.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 31st Jul '11 - 2:49pm

    Dear Colleagues,

    The party must listen to people such as Duwayne if it is to truly combat racism and other forms of bigotry, for unless the party learns to ‘walk the talk’ and to demonstrate that it actually understands such issues, I am pretty sure that many people will be reconsidering their membership. I am certainly reconsidering my position, as the communities that I work with come before any Party allegiance.

    I actually left the Labour Party, as I felt that it had lost its direction on such issues, and joined the Liberal Democrats as I truly believed that they were a party with the highest integrity and ethics. I still believe that the majority of the Party hold these tenets to be true, but it needs to cease the ‘flowery’ talk about respecting equality and diversity and commence some action.

    Alas since joining the Coalition, the Party seems to have lost its direction, and has adopted the mantra of ‘expediency’ that is endemic within the Tories. As an advocate for equality issues, I can assure the Party, that it is not only members of the minority ethnic communities that will be following this case with interest, but those from other marginalised groups as well, hence it is vitally important that the Party deals robustly with all cases of discrimination and lapses in ethics and integrity.

    As for the punishment of training, as a national trainer in these issues, I can assure the readers that although it is important that the Party can say that it has undertaken such training, many bigots can actually come out of such training better equipped to hide their ‘isms’ to the majority, and able to sound convincing. Training alone will not rid the Party of bigotry, sadly punitive sanctions are required as well.

    Action is what is required, and I would suggest that the Party adopts a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to bigotry.

    I commend those members who are speaking out against this and other cases where bigotry or unethical practices have been uncovered, but it will take the involvement of a critical mass of the membership to demand action before anything is done I fear. At the moment, the critical mass are remaining silent for reasons that I do not understand.

  • Thank you John Bruce for pointing out that the lifting of a suspension is automatic at the end of the disciplinary procedure and for pointing out that the hearing has a choice of penalties.

    I heard that an appeal against suspension was successful because no urgent reason had been given for it. I think it was lifted only a couple of weeks after the meeting that imposed it. Therefore John why don’t you appeal your suspension?

    It appears from the article that Rajinder Sophal, director of Reading Council for Racial Equality is happy with the result as he said: “The suggestion that diversity training is done is a good one given the problems we have had recently with Cllr Swaine.
    “I think it’s appropriate that if he is to remain in mainstream politics he should do so with the proper awareness of such issues.”

  • 3 comments
    1 – Warren publicly apologised for the tweet back in February – see http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/s/2087499_twitter_ye_not
    2. To everyone who thinks that the party is being soft on racism and thinking of leaving; I believe that we are not soft on racism but it may seem that way because we do try and find solutions that keep people in the party rather than throwing out possible bad eggs as soon as there is a whiff of trouble.
    3. If you want to change the system, there are 2 ways. Get involved and try to improve it or have a revolution and replace it.
    So if you don’t like the result of the hearing or want to see less racism in the party you know what to do.
    I hope you will get involved with the bureaucracy of the party as it is just an important piece of the puzzle as the campaigning and fundraising and yes, your party does need you!
    If you leave, you make it harder for those left behind.

  • Neil, what apology? There was nothing in the link but a vague and mealy-mouthed expression of regret. That’s no apology. When else will this person apologise for the stuff he publishes, which from a look at the Reading websites causes offense pretty much every week?

  • Lester Holloway 1st Aug '11 - 1:57pm

    I am yet to comprehend why diversity awareness training is being metted out like a punishment. If this sorry story, and the thread on Lib Dem Voice, demonstrate anything it is that they could all do with some training!

    It is disgraceful that Cllr Swaine does not appear to have given a real public apology. He has therefore not shown the public he understands, let alone regrets, the offence he has caused. The original story was public, and it demanded public closure with a full and convincing personal statement of regret. Failure to do so sends all the wrong signals out, to the party and beyond.

    I can fully understand Duwayne Brooks’ frustrations. He is not alone. There are large cracks under the surface due to failure to achieve results as far as black MPs are concerned. These risk cracking open if the party again fail to breakthrough. Numerous resignations will not merely be embarrassing, it will cement the party’s reputation on this issue, perhaps forever. Making the breakthrough will be much harder now AV is lost. That means more effort and concentration to find talent and change attitudes. I don’t see evidence of this progress. If anything we’re slipping further behind. Does the party *really* want change? Or is it sleepwalking to disaster on this issue?

    Do we want to be known as a party that reflects modern Britain, or the party of “I’m not racist but…I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” Or “I’m not racist but… I’d like things to get better so other people should really do something while I carry on as normal.”

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 1st Aug '11 - 6:23pm

    Lester,

    You are spot on! Thank you for your thoughts.

    As for a previous suggestion of “If you want to change the system, there are 2 ways. Get involved and try to improve it or have a revolution and replace it. So if you don’t like the result of the hearing or want to see less racism in the party you know what to do.” Along with Duwayne and many other minority ethnic members of the Party, I have been involved in challenging racism and other forms of bigotry for many years.

    I for one, spent 25 years in the Police Service, latterly challenging the issues at the highest levels, and I can assure you that I have never walked away from my duty. Realistically though, if one is alone, and fighting, one is easily picked off. The only way to achieve an equitable society is if ALL within it, realise they have a duty and responsibility to personally change the environment and culture. I for one am up for a bit of revolution.

    From my earliest days within the National Black Police Association I have looked upon these issues in a simplistic manner. One is either a ‘Racist’, or an ‘Anti-Racist’. ‘Anti-Racists’ strive to challenge and combat all forms of bigotry, and lend their support to the victims and even the offenders after they have atoned for their failings. They do not hide behind ill-informed, or manipulate policies, but seek to improve those that are clearly out of date.

    On the other hand ‘Racists’ are those people who do not as yet understand the importance of the words of Pastor Niemoller (1892 – 1984)

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist
    Then they came for the Socialists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a trade unionist
    Then they came for the Jews
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Jew
    Then they came for me
    And there was no one left
    To speak out for me

    The majority of ‘Racists’ are not evil, many are good people, but these good people seem to forget that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil [and therefor also ‘Racism’] is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke, 1729 – 1797).

    I personally wish the Liberal Democrat Party to be an ‘Anti-Racist’ organisation that is constantly seeking to eradicate all forms of bigotry, it need not be devoid of humour, but is one that does not demean others on grounds of their sexuality, ability, gender, and ethnicity, etc. I believe that this is the Party that I joined, so it only needs those of us who hold these tenets to be true, to stand up and be counted to radically change our Party.

  • I thought the penalty imposed was his not being able to be an Officer of the Council Group. Am I mistaken?

    I thought it had been made clear that in the party rules making an apology can’t be set as a penalty.

    I believe that we once only had one penalty and that was the revoking of membership, but according to David Brace (sorry I misspelt your surname in last time) we now have a number of penalties which can be selected from, I think that is fairer. Do people really wish to change our rules so if someone makes a racist comment the only penalty that can be given is to have their membership revoked?

  • Sorry John Brace hopefully third time lucky and I have got your name 100% correct.

    I thought the new disciplinary rules (c 2008) were introduced to try to stop witch-hunt disciplinary proceedings and ensure that they are conducted in a fair manner. I wonder what more we can do to ensure that disciplinary proceedings are fair to both sides of a complaint?

    Maybe the party could provide guidance on what is an urgent reason for suspension so the person complained against and the people making the decision understand what is allowable.

  • Lester Holloway 3rd Aug '11 - 10:34pm

    I believe that Cllr Swaine has issued an apology this afternoon. I’m sure many people will wish to thank him for doing this. There are still wider lessons about how local parties handle such matters.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 6th Aug '11 - 10:29am

    Oranjpan,

    I must start by saying that I actually agree 100% with much that you have said, for is absolutely valid in most circumstances within a training/developmental arena, but not necessarily in public, where life is played out in ‘real time’ and not ‘play time’.

    I still stand by the statement that “One is either a ‘Racist’, or a ‘Anti-Racist’”, but you are not hearing me demonise the terms racist or racism in the manner that some many people do. I actually believe that it is only through identifying our own failings that we can develop, and demonising bigotry as something that only others do, does not help.

    As a criminologist I am a firm believer that people do not commit crime because they are evil and because it is within their nature that they will offend (although there will always be an exception). I actually believe that people resort to crime because of external factors created perhaps partly by themselves, but generally by external factors that are controlled by a society that the individual concerned has little or no influence over.

    In the same manner, I am a firm believer that people are educated and socialised to be racists, sexist and homophobic, etc. There appears no evidence to suggest people are born bigoted, but they acquire this unnecessary skill.

    Change comes through training, personal development, societal changes and personal experience, and if all of this is of a positive nature then the harm can undone. Alas though, some of us seem to also require a little further assistance by means of legislation and punitive action. As a trainer, I love the idea of winning the hearts and minds of the attendees, but if I cannot win their heart, which actually takes a much longer period than I am afforded as a trainer, then I am must at least aid them to realise the personal cost to themselves if they wish to continue to behave in certain ways, as well as the damage that their employers will suffer.

    The reality is that we all for many reasons have and will continue to display differing bigotries throughout our lives depending on circumstances. I believe that we have a duty and responsibility to limit such displays to a minimum, and if such displays harm others, then we have to pay the price.

    When someone holds public office, whether it be as a Police Officer or that of a Councillor, etc, I believe that society has a right to expect them to be held to a higher level of accountability regarding the issues that we are speaking of, and their overall ethics and integrity, and display exemplary behaviour as the role models that society wishes to see them as.

    Of course these officials are only human, and they have all the same failings as others, and they have a right to their own opinion, but in public (for such people they are never ‘off duty’) there is no excuse for displays of bigotry and other forms of intolerance, they should and do know better.

    This is a brief response, and as such open to misinterpretation, but I am more than happy to clarify and expand on anything that I have said.

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