Audit, Inspection and Safety

06.03.19

Tory council leader suspended after retweeting post supporting Tommy Robinson

A Conservative council leader has been suspended from the party after he retweeted a post supporting the far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

Andrew Bowles has led Swale Borough Council in Kent for 16 years, but was suspended by the Conservative Party last night after a retweet hailed Robinson as a “patriot.”

Bowles retweeted the comment last week, condemning the EDL co-founder’s social media ban. It included an image of Robinson superimposed on Mel Gibson’s face on ‘The Patriot’ film cover surrounded by English and British flags.

Following the post, opposition councillor Antony Hook urged the council’s Conservative Party to distance itself from Bowles ahead of the upcoming elections and others have called for him to resign as leader.

Hook said: “I was very shocked that Andrew would retweet someone supporting Tommy Robinson.

“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.

“The right to free speech is not the right to be given a platform.”

Cllr Hook said he was “astonished” at Bowles post, and warned: “People will get the impression that it's a bit of a dog whistle and that with the local elections coming up in eight weeks' time, that he's trying to say to Tommy Robinson supporters 'we're on your side. Come and vote Conservatives'.

“If that's not the case, he should come out and say he opposes Tommy Robinson and I completely reject his views and I'm not inviting his supporters to vote Conservative.”

Swale Council said it had received complaints about the retweet which will be considered, but stated that the current issue at this stage is a matter for the local party.

Bowles, speaking to the Mirror, said he “believes totally in free speech” and that “censorship is a slippery path.”

“I believe any views, particularly the more obnoxious they are, need the oxygen of publicity so the public can judge them.

“I wasn't supporting him, I was supporting the process of free speech.”

The suspension comes a day after 14 Conservative party members were suspended from the party after posting racist or Islamophobic comments on social media.

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