In which August Scholl takes a look at the normalisation of Islamophobic views in political discourse in light of Cllr Franklin’s actions.
For anyone accepting public office, their words and actions matter. Whether an MP or a local councillor, elected officials have a duty to represent and be accountable to their constituents. When Conservative councillor for Luton and Wayfield, Michael Franklin, began sharing and endorsing intensely Islamophobic content on his Twitter account in 2016, he acted in a way unfitting for a local politician, as well as being in direct contravention of the Conservative Party code of conduct (‘To support equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and the absence of any and all inappropriate behaviour, in all aspects of the Party’s activities.’).
We are interrupting our regular schedule for the rest of the week to bring you an examination of how each local political party appears to be preparing for the May 2019 elections. We begin today with the Medway Conservatives.
The Medway Conservatives have been in control of Medway Council for 16 years of the 21 years that it has existed. Since 2003, they have held an unbroken run of running the council. That level of success can very easily breed complacency, and complacency can breed incompetence. Could the party be heading for a reckoning in May?
From the signs coming from within the local party, that may well be the case.
The process of introducing this code began a year ago, when we published a story on the controversial tweeting of Conservative councillor for Luton and Wayfield, Michael Franklin. The Medway Labour group lodged a formal complaint over the matter, and while no direct action against Franklin was taken, the council have drawn up a new section to the Code of Conduct (above) to emphasise how seriously such matters are taken.
While many councillors maintain rather boring accounts, and others avoid it altogether, there are some who are ‘colourful’ in their use of social media, and we look forward to seeing how they react to the new rules.
Quiet week in Parliament
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch now away on maternity leave, and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst didn’t speak in any debates this week. That left Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti as the only Medway MP to speak this week, where he only asked questions – six of them no less – on laser pointers.
Medway Conservatives Still missing, presumably because trying to keep Cllr Franklin off Twitter is taking up too much of their time.
Medway Labour This week, Medway Labour have mostly spent the week moaning about the trains. Because you can’t go wrong moaning about the trains.
Medway UKIP Still missing, because it’s Medway UKIP.
Missing, as they’ve probably all signed up to Labour by this point.
Lower Thames Crossing kerfuffle After months of indecisiveness, it was formally announced that the preferred option for a new crossing of the Thames would be the one that had most impact upon Medway. The planned route, involving a tunnel and new high speed road connection between the west of Strood and Essex, will now undergo a full consultation. Various councils are now forming their positions on the plan – Kent and Dartford are in favour, while Gravesham is opposed. The Medway Council cabinet don’t seem to want to commit to a position, with Regeneration lead Cllr Chitty saying she’d need to see proper detail of the infrastructure and junctions before commenting. She apparently missed that these details, and much more, were published in full on the Lower Thames Crossing website.
Over the past few years, more and more Medway councillors have taken to Twitter, with mixed results. Some take it up pretty naturally, while some come across as only opening an account because they think they need to. Others are in another category completely of being completely out of their depth. It’s this category where recently elected Conservative councillor for Luton and Wayfield Michael Franklin finds himself.
It was immediately clear that he perhaps wasn’t a natural to Twitter when he adopted the snappy moniker of @mikefra74161391 and this was his first tweet:
In the months after, his account was only occasionally used, ramping up significantly following his election in May. By and large, Cllr Franklin seems to spend most of his time tweeting anti-EU and anti-Corbyn content, which perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising for a Conservative.
In more recent weeks, it’s become clear that he’s definitely pro-monarchy (and pro-capitalisation):
He’s definitely got some strong opinions on the criminal justice system:
And he’s definitely not a fan of 16 and 17 year olds being given the vote:
All of which probably wouldn’t matter too much if he was effective at dealing from comments from constituents. Instead, he decides to interact with them in the form of insults and accusing them of deliberately not paying their council tax, even doing so by jumping into a conversation that doesn’t involve him:
A spectacular moment came when he argued that high bus fares in Medway are absolutely fine because too many people on the bus “need to walk more” anyway, following it up by accusing a resident of being unable to read:
Jennings highlighted this particular tweet, leading to a rather odd exchange, and resulted in his usual catchphrase of “COMMIE Corbyn strikes again” being busted out:
Another surreal incident occurred a few days later, when the Medway Messenger reported an increase in council tax, and Cllr Franklin accused them of some underhanded news gathering practices. An accusation all the more bizarre given that his own council had already published a press release about the council tax rise.
All of this wouldn’t really be that big of a deal – eccentric people on Twitter is hardly news – if it wasn’t for his rather troubling tendency to retweet increasingly racist and Islamophobic tweets, like this one where he suggests the Prime Minister of Canada in a mosque was “worshipping the devil”:
He has no qualms in condoning those on the left being laughed at, mocked, and most worryingly, referred to as “leftards”:
He seems to think it’s cool for feminists against Islamophobia to be described as “kunts”, also referencing the anti-Muslim #Bluehand movement.
He is absolutely happy to retweet this kind of anti-Muslim propaganda, even going so far as to ask if “anyone has any doubts” about the claims:
Cllr Franklin is more than comfortable on pinning a supposed increase in child sex abuse cases entirely on the Muslim community, with this kind of provocative imagery:
When we showed some of this retweeting on Twitter by literally posting screenshots from his own account, he accused us of “editing”:
It’s not our job to police what politicians can and can’t say on Twitter. Everyone is entitled to their views, and everyone is willing to express them. That said, Cllr Franklin represents one of the most diverse wards in Medway, and the fact Medway Conservatives feel comfortable selecting him and continue to stand by him suggests some worrying lack of judgement within the local party.
Note: Since Cllr Franklin’s tweets started gaining attention, many of the above tweets have since been deleted from his account. This is why we have presented them as screenshots. It’s also notable that his tweeting has been toned down considerably since this issue was initially raised.