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26.03.19

Council leader reinstated after online Tommy Robinson comments amid Tory Islamophobia row

The Conservative council leader who was suspended for sharing a message supporting far-right activist Tommy Robinson has now been re-instated by the Conservatives after a 13-day suspension.

Andrew Bowles, the leader of Swale Council for 16 years, has been disciplined by his party after appearing to endorse a claim on Twitter that Robinson’s social media ban was a “disgraceful injustice” and labelling him as a “patriot.”

Bowles has apologised for any offence caused and has agreed to attend training on the better use of social media after opposition councillor Antony Hook called on the local authority and Tory Party to distance itself from Bowles ahead of the upcoming elections.

Hook said he was “astonished” when he read the post and said people would get the impression that Bowles was using the post as a dog whistle to get Tommy Robinson voters on his side before the local elections.

Bowles, speaking to the Mirror, said he “believes totally in free speech” and that “censorship is a slippery path,” but insisted he had not meant to endorse Robinson’s “racist and intolerant views.”

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

Facebook removed Robinson’s official page and Instagram profile last month, stating that its contents violated its policies on hate speech and community standards.

This comes after 14 Conservative Party members were suspended earlier this month after posting racist and Islamophobic comments on social media, with Labour claiming that the Tories are in denial about Islamophobia in their ranks.

After online comments describing Saudi Arabians as “sand peasants” and sharing content likening Asian people to dogs, the party has come under fire for its handling of allegations of anti-Muslim prejudice.

The Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis has insisted that swift action is taken when complaints are made, but shadow equalities minister, Naz Shah, expressed concern about the speed at which Andrew Bowles had been reinstated.

She said: “They can start by adopting the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Muslims' definition of Islamophobia, as Labour has done.

“But what the Tories really need is an independent inquiry to root out this and other forms of racism within their ranks.”

Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the House of Lords and former co-chair of the Tory Party, tweeted an angry response to Bowles’s reinstatement, stating that the party had “lost all moral authority on issues of discrimination and hate” through a “revolving door racism” policy.  

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