Tory council hit by ‘pikey’ racism row

Article @ Morning Star, published 5 May 2016

A Tory police and crime commissioner (PCC) candidate has been accused of racism after he and other Cambridge Conservatives were caught mocking asylum-seekers and Travellers in a series of vile online posts.

But the Cambridgeshire councillor and PCC front runner Jason Ablewhite, who is facing calls to be suspended, said comments he posted to Facebook as a serving councillor in 2010 were “banter.”

The slurs were made in relation to a picture of two people allegedly known to Mr Ablewhite.

The PCC candidate was echoed by fellow Tory Huntingdon district councillor Tom Sanderson, who added: “Someone give these two some tarmac to lay.”

“Pikey’s (sic) caught on camera!” Mr Ablewhite replied.

Mr Ablewhite refused to apologise when confronted with screengrabs, arguing it was “pub time humour among friends that is not full of hate.”

And in a further Facebook kerfuffle he offered the tone-deaf analogy that “we call Tom ‘Horseface’ but that doesn’t mean I have a thing against animals.”

But he was less bold on Tuesday evening, with a hustings no-show for the last local event at which Roma Gypsy residents had expressly come to ask questions.

Gold medallist event rider Phoebe Buckley, whose family is “old school Romani Gypsy,” attended the event “armed with questions” for Mr Ablewhite.

She told the Star she wasn’t surprised when he didn’t show up, but that it was still a “really poor show.”

Ms Buckley said: “My eyes really opened to how it seems to be OK to use racism against Gypsies and Travellers.

“Jason Ablewhite threw the word ‘pikey’ around and I just don’t believe he would think it was OK to use [similar terms towards] any other ethnic minority.

“I am sure he wouldn’t feel comfortable calling black people ‘niggers.’ For me it’s the same level.

“We find the word pikey very offensive and I think a man in a position of power as he’s in shouldn’t say: ‘It’s just banter’ to use those terms.

“I occasionally still come across a bit of prejudice and it doesn’t make it any easier for my community to feel they are on a level playing field.”

Comments like those of Mr Ablewhite have had terrible repercussions in families like Ms Buckley’s, who said her parents are not registered to vote because they feel politicians “wouldn’t take them seriously.”

Less than a day ahead of the PCC elections, the Team GB equestrian wished for nothing but an apology from Mr Ablewhite.

“I don’t think he probably actually ever spoken to a Gypsy who actually would say: ‘You know what we do find it offensive.’

“What I would love is for him to acknowledge that what he said was wrong, to apologise and to say it’s not aceptable to do it.”

Labour PCC candidate Dave Baigent said “people make mistakes” but that Mr Ablewhite should apologise immediately, adding the Tory candidate’s excuses were “the language of the racist who gets caught.”

The National Alliance of Gypsy Traveller & Roma Women also called on the chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Feldman, to suspend Mr Ablewhite.

Other Tories leapt to Mr Ablewhite’s defence, with his agent Debbie Clark adding she had “called the Irish ‘tinkers’ because that’s what they are commonly known as.”

She added: “It does not mean I am racist; my stepson is Irish.”

Mr Ablewhite’s team was unavailable for comment last night.

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