Councillor sanctioned and told to train in ‘good political debate’
- Credit: Twitter/@MattDowneyEly
A Lib Dem councillor has been sanctioned after a heated debate over Black Lives Matter and his outburst on Twitter in which he alleged some Tories were racist.
Independent councillor Sue Austen chaired a disciplinary subcommittee that met behind closed doors.
External investigators put together a report that the subcommittee discussed.
It concluded that Cllr Matthew Downey, the Lib Dem member for Ely East, had twice breached the members’ code of conduct.
Cllr Downey was cleared of an alleged breach of the code in respect of bullying.
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The committee noted that “however this should not be viewed as an endorsement of Councillor Downey’s comments or the veracity of his concerns”.
They felt that “a finding that he had failed to comply with the code with regard to these matters would represent a disproportionate restriction on his right to free speech”.
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The issue went back to council meetings in July of last year.
Council leader Anna Bailey complained that Cllr Downey had failed to treat her and other Conservative members with respect when he called them “racists”.
Cllr Downey had also claimed that he felt Cllr Bailey and members of the Conservative Group did not think that black lives mattered and accused Cllr Bailey of lying.
A council statement said: “The complaint arose in relation to various tweets that were posted on Councillor Downey’s Twitter account.
“The tweets included assertions that the council’s constitution had been breached both in relation to the council meeting and the finance and assets meeting.
“The tweets also stated that the Conservative members of the council were racist and criticised named Conservative members for “liking” racist tweets.
“He (Cllr Downey) accused them of breaching the council’s constitution and called upon a chair of a particular committee to resign.”
The statement added: “It was also alleged that Councillor Downey had ‘baited’ Cllr Bailey to get her to respond on Twitter and subsequently accused her of lying.
“Cllr Bailey said that the tweets were untrue and therefore brought Councillor Downey or the council into disrepute.”
As a result of the finding that two breaches had occurred; Councillor Downey is required to provide a written apology to Cllr Bailey.
He has also been told to undergo training “in relation to good political debate”.
Cllr Downey tweets included assertions that the council’s constitution had been breached (‘manipulated’, ‘violated’, ‘broken’ and ‘wrecked’).
Cllr Bailey said the tweets were untrue and therefore brought Cllr Downey or the council into disrepute.
The council had authorised Alex Oram of Norwich to undertake the investigation.
Mr Oram describes himself as a “highly experienced complaints investigator with a proven track record of successfully completing often complex and contentious cases”.
Cllr Downey took to Twitter to complain that the council had watered down his motion of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In one tweet he wrote: “I'm so utterly disgusted. I really thought I was past being surprised by these people, but then they do this!
“We proposed a motion. We compromised and amended it in the name of getting it passed by the council.”
In another he tweeted: “Then they broke the constitution and wrecked it. They have brought the council into disrepute by ignoring the constitution and by declaring that black lives don't matter.”
He wrote that “our motion originally declared ‘East Cambridgeshire extends our solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement’.
“The Tories proposed an amendment to delete that and other aspects. Preempting this we used a procedural measure to amend the motion on the debate floor.”
“We instead deleted the aforementioned wording and introduced a part saying ‘East Cambs believes that Black lives matter’.
“We felt the phrasing was more moderate and would allow us to agree a motion. A less good one, but still.”
He concluded : “Then they claimed that their amendment deleted this too, with really no constitutional grounds to back them up.
“They felt absolutely compelled to delete the words saying that Black lives matter.”