Local Thurrock Councillor Neil Rockliffe has been suspended by his local Conservative group after describing his constituency in Chafford Hundred as ‘Chaffirca’ (Chafford and Africa).
He went on to compare his constituents to an EastEnders story line involving “murderers, rapists, concerned ethnic minorities and gay men”.
Rokliffe represents Chafford and North Stifford and enjoys a small majority of just 117 votes.
Chafford Hundred has one of the fastest growing black and minority ethnic middle classes in the United Kingdom.
Cllr Rockliffe posted the comments on his Facebook page whilst enjoying a summer holiday. On his return he sailed into a storm of controversy and was summarily suspended by the local Tory group pending a formal investigation.
Rockliffe mused on Facebook:
“Thinking the scriptwriters of EastEnders must live on Chafford Hundred…has all the ingredients….murderers, rapists, concerned ethnic minorities, gay men etc, etc….”
The comments are bound to infuriate local people and his derogatory and potentially racist comments, using the corruption of Africa as a term representing the poorer members of his local community and his gross stereotype and conflation of criminals, Black people and gay men is deeply offensive.
However Rockliffe speaking to the Telegraph rejected allegation that his comments were in anyway racist, stating:
“I absolutely refute the suggestion that this was some kind of subliminal racist comment, I am not racist, but if people want to think that I was effectively being racist then I unreservedly apologise.” He added “It’s one of those things, I’m absolutely embarrassed, it was not intended for the public domain, it was not a public statement.”
However, leader of the Thurrock Conservative group, Garry Hague said Cllr Rockcliffe’s comments were a “grave error”.
He added: “We are extremely concerned over the potential offence that may have been caused in this case and, through the Conservative Group rules, we are reviewing what sanction should be applied to Cllr Rockliffe.”
The comments have been slammed by local anti-racism organisation TRUST. A spokesperson speaking on behalf of the Chair of TRUST said:
<“This isn’t helpful at all. The borough has been red-flagged for community cohesion and we are all working so hard to turn it around”.