Dozens of local residents sat bemused or horrified as councillor after councillor took the opportunity to disparage the blameless sentiments by accusing the proposer Cllr Liz Harvey of 'rank hypocrisy'. Bob Barnes went further (at 8'18") and said the whole thing was a political stunt. He said he would not vote for it because the proposer had conducted a 'relentless campaign of intimidation, bullying and hatred towards this council, its councillors and, most significantly, our office staff, it is hardly an example of tolerance.' During the tirade, despite calls from councillors that his words were clearly out of order and irrelevant to the motion, he was allowed to finish unhindered. Thus encouraged, Martin Eager, Noel and Jayne Roberts lined up to stick the boot in also.
Was this motion about Liz Harvey? No. It was about East Europeans and others being shouted at and abused on the streets of Ledbury. Four statements from members of the public confirmed that this had been happening. Even so, Cllr Martin Eager and county councillor Emma Holton agreed with proud UKIP supporter Yvonne White that 'there is NO racism in Ledbury. It is a figment of people's imagination... This motion is a load of rubbish and a waste of time.' (The loud applause at the end of Mrs White's speech in the video clip, 14'45", is Cllr Holton's.)
With characteristic clarity, Annette Crowe said (16'58"): 'this has caused me some concern... I have not a got a racist bone in my body. I think the principle is really good. I have not witnessed anyone being racially abused... I don't think it sends a good message about Ledbury if we put out statements like this, people will assume that there is a major problem in Ledbury, which there isn't... I support the sentiment... So I will be abstaining.'
Wrapping up the debate, Cllr Andrew Warmington challenged Deputy Mayor Elaine Fieldhouse's contention that 'I cannot speak on behalf of other people. It's not my job to speak on behalf of other people.'
'Yes we can', he said. 'We are elected to the town council, we are meant to show leadership. It is for us to put out a positive message to the people of Ledbury and to those who have been affected [by racism].'
Possibly the best - and briefest - comment of the night was from Cllr Nick Morris: 'If there isn't a unanimous vote for this motion, it will bring this council into disrepute'. Tittering uncontrollably, Elaine Fieldhouse, evidently found this as amusing as Tony Bradford was outraged. (See 20'18")
Andrew Warmington summed up exactly what was wrong with this discussion in an interesting Facebook discussion thread on the 'Town Talk Ledbury Politics' page. '[The motion] was not, as others [have stated], about the council and whether or not any of its members are racist, but about the council taking a lead on behalf of the town. Unfortunately for some, the whole thing is so personalised they took it as an insinuation they were racist and/or felt they had to be against it because Liz [Harvey] proposed it. This is not a way for a council to run itself.
Is it really possible to state categorically that there is no racism or xenophobia in Ledbury? The evidence from the street appears to show otherwise. Can Annette Crowe really say that she hasn't got a racist bone in her [white, British] body? To do so, not only sounds horribly complacent, but is to confound decades of social research which has understood racism, not just as an individual state of mind, but an organised social framework in which prejudice and discrimination are systematically embedded in the fabric of society.
To take a small example, there are no East Europeans (nor Gypsies/Travellers) on Ledbury Town Council, (nor Herefordshire Council). It will be claimed that the reason for this, is that they don't come forward to stand as candidates. This is true, but it ignores the fact that not only does the Town Council make zero effort to connect with these communities, but people from such backgrounds would justifiably fear that they would be made unwelcome, even the object of prejudice.
The Stephen Lawrence report by Lord MacPherson described the idea of 'institutional racism' as 'the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.'
I am willing to accept the assurances from Ledbury Town Councillors that they are not individually, consciously racist in their outlook. I cringe however when I hear privileged white men and women smugly deny the very idea of racism or xenophobia existing in our town, in our council or in ourselves. Such thinking is delusional. What was it Jesus said about the Pharisees? 'Woe unto you, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.'
The councillors say they haven't witnessed prejudice in Ledbury. Perhaps they weren't looking. Or perhaps they were looking the other way.