The following statement has been issued today by the Hertsmere Borough Council Labour Group following advice from our solicitors and senior Counsel:
This statement is being issued following concerns that have been expressed to us by residents across the Borough who have had a leaflet published on behalf of the Hertsmere Conservative Association delivered to their homes. This leaflet, titled ‘In Focus’, contains an article with the headline: “Apology demanded from Labour over homophobic Mayor slurs”. This statement is our response to the article.
The article says that Conservative Councillors “have called for an apology from Labour after their Deputy Council Leader accused the new Borough Mayor of homophobia”. It claims that Cllr Alan Plancey “had to sit in silence as he was verbally abused… by both Cllr Christian Gray and his husband Cllr Chris Myers” at a Council meeting. After asserting that Labour “knew for FIVE weeks” before the meeting that Cllr Plancey was to be the Tory nominee for Mayor, the article claims that “[s]uddenly the day before his election to Mayor, Labour started a dirty tricks campaign against him and continued it online”. It alleges that “[p]rivate legal action is now being considered”.
We have no wish to further escalate this matter. However, this inaccurate and offensive article has been distributed to thousands of homes across our Borough. We believe this is a crude and shameless attempt to weaponise homophobic sentiment as we approach local elections in which Cllr Gray and Cllr Myers are both candidates.
The claim in the article that Cllr Gray and Cllr Myers are married is false. In our view, it is a disgraceful example of imposing heterosexual relationship paradigms upon a gay couple.
The demand in the article for an apology “from Labour” for something allegedly said by “their Deputy Council Leader” is incoherent. Cllr Gray is Deputy Leader of the Labour Group at Hertsmere. The Deputy Council Leader is Conservative Councillor Caroline Clapper. This clumsy error is indicative of the gaffe-prone manner in which the Conservatives run Hertsmere Borough Council.
The article questions the timing of Labour’s open letter asking Cllr Plancey to consider his position. It labels the letter the start of a “dirty tricks campaign”. This is obfuscation. The issue is not the timing. The issue is the use of what we believe to be inappropriate, hurtful and homophobic language and tropes. We carefully considered the representations made to us by a young, Jewish, gay local resident and acted upon them in a measured and reasonable way.
In our view this dirty and dishonourable Tory leaflet uses the worst kind of dog whistle politics to attack two gay Councillors who are also local election candidates. In contrast, we remind local people of the facts:
1. In an interview relating to homosexuality in 2014 Cllr Alan Plancey said the following: “Whether it’s a Jew or whether it’s a human being, I think the demonstrations that are coming out today for acceptance of minority rule is completely wrong. You’ll get more acceptance and more love if you do it quietly and unobtrusively. You’ll be accepted much much more within the society. Why are we trying to drop the boundaries? Why are we trying to change the religion? That’s all I’m saying to you. Don’t come in with your attitude”. In the same interview Cllr Plancey also said: “You’re asking me as a gay or as a lesbian, respect me. Yes, I will respect you, provided you don’t insist that I accept your actions as permitted. As you as a person I’ll accept but your actions I can’t accept.”
2. When Cllr Plancey was challenged about those statements in a BBC radio interview, shortly after being elected as Mayor, he said the following:
Cllr Plancey: “I won’t put my views to them and I don’t want them to put their views to me. That’s as simple as that. I don’t want them to come and tell me I’m not living a proper life or that my children should be gay or homosexual.”
Interviewer: “Nobody’s saying that.”
Cllr Plancey: “No, I’m not saying –”
Interviewer: “Who has come to you and said your child should be gay? Who has said that?”
Cllr Plancey: “Oh, you’d be surprised. The pressure is on. There’s a lot of pressure at the moment even at universities and everything.”
3. In the same radio interview Cllr Plancey rejected suggestions of a meeting with Cllr Gray, Cllr Myers and local LGBTQ+ leaders to try and reach a resolution to these matters.
Furthermore, Cllr Plancey has claimed that his remarks in 2014 were based on the position of the Torah on homosexuality. In our view (following consultation with Orthodox and Progressive Rabbis), they are simply his own interpretation. By seeking to transpose his own views as some kind of ‘official’ monolithic Jewish stance, we believe that Cllr Plancey erases and marginalises the positions of many other Jewish people of all denominations.
Labour Councillors owe no apologies for challenging language we believe to be homophobic. Speaking out on behalf of LGBTQ+ residents of Hertsmere is part of our role as elected representatives.
We have responded to all communications from Cllr Plancey’s solicitor in reasonable time. To date he has failed to set out adequate details of his threatened claim. We suspect that he has threatened these ill-conceived proceedings against two Gay Councillors simply to attempt to silence them. His solicitor calls for de-escalation yet his party escalates the matter with these leaflets being delivered to thousands of homes in Hertsmere.
We will never remain silent when we see what we believe to be the language of discrimination employed in local politics on our turf. We are inspired and encouraged by the messages of solidarity and support that we have received. This is especially the case for the many such messages we have received from Rabbis, Jewish community leaders and Jewish people from around the Borough and beyond.
9 March 2021