In January 2016, we published an article on Luton and Wayfield Conservative councillor Michael Franklin’s offensive tweeting. Throughout 2015, Cllr Franklin published and shared a number of Islamophobic, transphobic, and racist tweets on his personal Twitter account. Following our article, the issue was raised at a full council meeting, and gained some wider media attention, and a new social media policy for councillors was introduced.
Crucially though, no action was taken against Cllr Franklin for his actions.
Until he found himself suspended from the Conservative party, three years later.
So what changed to make the party take action now when they didn’t in the previous three years?
Baroness Warsi, a former Chairman of the Conservative Party who spends much time calling out Islamophobia within British politics, got wind of Cllr Franklin’s retweets and publicly shared some of examples on her Twitter account in a tweet aimed at the current Chairman Brandon Lewis:
Well, what do you know? Three years after we brought Cllr Franklin’s tweets to light, this finally happened:
So what happened in that two hour window that couldn’t happen in the three years previous?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the issue being brought to the attention of the national party made all the difference. Shortly before Brandon Lewis posted his tweet that Cllr Franklin had been suspended, Andrew Kennedy, the Chairman of the Chatham and Aylesford Conservative Party released this statement:
This statement is full of all of the right words, but raises more issues than answers, as some statements within it seem to be stretching the truth somewhat. First of all, the idea that Cllr Franklin has been suspended for retweeting ‘something which is hostile to Islam’ is an understatement to say the least. Cllr Franklin repeatedly posted offensive words and imagery on social media, as documented in our original article, and in the time since. To dress this as a one-off error is problematic given just how well his tweeting was documented at the time.
More troubling though is the claim that these tweets were brought to the attention of Mr. Kennedy and Cllr Jarrett ‘this morning’. It seems questionable that any association chairman as diligent as Mr. Kennedy could be so oblivious to the issue given that it was discussed at council meetings and received media attention following our breaking of the story back in 2016.
If we are willing to accept that there is the slightest chance that Mr. Kennedy had placed his head under a rock for the past few years, the same cannot be said for Cllr Jarrett. While it may have been possible that Cllr Jarrett wasn’t reading this website back in 2016 (perish the thought), he was in attendance at the February 2016 full council meeting where Cllr Maple, leader of the Labour group, raised the issue to his face. Below is a helpful audio recording:
Cllr Jarrett along with 33 Medway Conservatives colleagues were in attendance to hear that discussion, as a cursory check of the attendance register for that meeting shows. Yet not only did no word get back to Mr. Kennedy, apparently Cllr Jarrett – sitting directly opposite Cllr Maple – heard nothing about it until three years later. Why would Cllr Jarrett put his name to a statement that is so demonstrably untrue?
Perhaps much of this is down to the fact that the Medway Conservatives couldn’t care less that Cllr Franklin holds the views that he does. If they did, they would have stepped in at any point over the past three years to take action.
In January 2016, we published his tweets for the first time. Medway Conservatives did nothing.
In February 2016, it was raised a full council meeting. Medway Conservatives did nothing.
In May 2016, the Councillor Conduct Committee drew up a social media code of conduct in response to this situation, but no action was taken against Cllr Franklin.
In January 2017, the full council agreed the new policy.
In 2018, Cllr Franklin was reselected as a candidate to fight for Luton and Wayfield in 2019. If one things proves how uninterested Medway Conservatives were in the issue, it’s this.
Now, in February 2019, he has been suspended.
All because the national party leaned on them.
No one comes out of this looking good. Was the constituency Chairman really so unaware of such a public issue? Why has Cllr Jarrett put his name to a demonstrably untrue statement? Most importantly, what message does it send that despite repeatedly being raised in public, Medway Conservatives take no action against councillors with such abhorrent views until the national party tells them to?