Election candidates have not been subject to the kind of public scrutiny they might have expected pre-covid, and online hustings last week demonstrated why such questioning is so necessary. By STEVEN DOWNES
Neil “Father Jack” Garratt, the Conservative candidate for the Croydon and Sutton seat in next month’s London Assembly elections, has been accused by his political rivals of “perpetuating racist feelings”, “gas-lighting” and speaking “racist nonsense”.
Garratt, a Tory councillor in Sutton, was speaking at a virtual hustings organised by Purley Masjid last week, when he was answering a question about the accountability of the Metropolitan Police, and the use of stop and search.
The south London election event was being staged while in Minnesota, the murder trial was underway of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who was standing trial for the murder of George Floyd. Floyd’s death last year prompted Black Lives Matter protests around the world, including in London.
At the hustings, Labour’s Patsy Cummings challenged Garratt after he had rambled on for several minutes, in which time managing to say that the police are asked “to crack down on the terrible violence that is largely inflicted on young black men but is often inflicted by young black men”.
Cummings, the South Norwood councillor who is seeking to become the first Labour London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, accused Garratt of gas-lighting the area’s black, Asian and migrant population.
Official figures show that while 13 per cent of London’s population is black, four times as many black Londoners are subjected to police stop and search than white Londoners.
“We’ve got thousands of people who commit crime,” Cummings said, “and if you look at the percentage overall, you find that black, brown and migrant people do not commit the majority of crime.
“By making that kind of statement you are just perpetuating… I’m going to say it… that racist feeling that some people have.”
Cummings suggested that Garratt’s position gave licence to the idea that “it doesn’t matter because it is the black young men who are committing the crime”.
She said, “That kind of statement, from the government, from candidates, from anyone, should not be said.”
Cummings, who had earlier said that stop and search and the Met’s Prevent policy “hasn’t worked particularly well”, added, “We need to tackle this issue, we need to be open and transparent, and even-handed and fair.
“So please don’t say that it’s okay to disproportionately stop black boys because after all its only black boys who are the perpetrators.”
At that point in the virtual event, Garratt was allowed to come back, to claim that, “It’s definitely not what I said”, only then to double down by making exactly the same point once more.
Garratt said, “I am concerned about the victims who are disproportionately young black men and I am concerned that the perpetrators of serious knife crime in Croydon and elsewhere… they are disproportionately young black men. This is the problem.
“I would appreciate it if you did not put words in my mouth,” Garratt said, apparently unaware of what he had just said. Again.
Peter Underwood, the Green Party candidate, was clearly as astonished and as horrified as Cummings at the Tory’s clear absence of any understanding of the significance of what he had said.
Underwood described Garratt’s attempted rebuttal as “simply is not true”.
Underwood said, “It’s the sort of racist nonsense that makes policing really difficult. We can’t just cast around racist slurs like that, perpetuating racial stereotypes.”
Garratt – and indeed all those standing in elections on May 6 – have been fortunate to avoid the kind of close scrutiny that they might have expected in pre-covid elections, with public meetings and hustings which might draw out of some candidates their less-attractive characteristics.
Garratt has a long-held, and well-deserved, reputation for having a short fuse when challenged by residents and voters on social media.
This includes his using foul and abusive language which earned him the nickname locally of “Father Jack”.
But this latest episode could see him become known as something far worse.
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