Hertfordshire councillor reported over “offensive” comments

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Liberal Democrats have lodged a formal complaint against a county councillor who used language that they say is “offensive”.

Conservative councillor Morris Bright - who is also leader of Hertsmere Borough Council - made the remarks during the council’s budget debate in February.

He was questioning the right of the Liberal Democrat group to criticise the council’s spending proposals.

And in pointing to the party’s role in central government between 2010-15, when may of the cuts were made, he used the phrase “...they bent over, they took it...”

Cllr Bright says he used the phrase to refer to someone allowing an authority figure - be it a teacher, police officer or parent - to give a reprimand, without fighting back.

And he says he has also heard it used referencing the use of corporal punishment, when caning was permitted in schools.

However the Liberal Democrats point to a different meaning of the phrase, which they say is “sexist”, “homophobic” and “offensive”.

At a meeting of the full council last week (March 26) the opposition Liberal Democrat party said they would not agree to the minutes from the meeting, because they did not include a reference to the remark.

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst told members: “In view of the offensive, sexist and homophobic comment made by a deputy executive member, this group will not accept the minutes and wish a recorded vote - unless that member so apologises.”

And now Cllr Giles-Medhurst has lodged a formal complaint against Cllr Bright with the county council’s chief legal officer.

He says the comments - which he says can refer to “rape” - breach the council’s ‘code of conduct for members’, which states that members should “show respect for others”.

And he says they  also breach the code’s obligation that councillors, carry out their “duties and responsibilities with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people regardless of their gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age or religion”.

“The words used are also a reference also to rape, and the casual use of them to score political points betrays a male-dominant, abuse-of-power, privileged point of view,” he says.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst says the comments are doubly offensive because of the tone in which they were delivered.

And he says he was disappointed that the chairman did not intervene at the time to demand an apology.

However Cllr Bright - who is deputy executive member for highways and the environment at the county council -  says he never intended to cause offence with his ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks.

And he points to the different ways the phrase has been interpreted.

“Different people have different understandings,” he said. “There was no malicious intent. If anyone was offended I apologise. There was no intent to do so.
“My understanding of what this means is obviously different to others and I am sorry for any offence - that was not my intention.”

Cllr Bright says he sent a written apology to a member of the Liberal Democrats within 24 hours of the meeting , which was not accepted.

But he did not apologise at the meeting of council, because - he says - the only apology the Liberal Democrats would accept was the one they had drafted.

“I am not going to have words put in my mouth,” he said.

Following receipt of the formal complaint, chief legal officer Kathryn Pettitt will now have 28 days to review it and determine what action will be taken.

She could decide to take no action, to require a formal investigation, take ‘action other than investigation’ or refer the complaint to the county council’s Standards Committee.