OPINION: Conservative Ipswich Association needs a shake-up

Published:
05:30 25 August 2022



The past week has been pretty miserable for Tories in Ipswich following local councilor Steve Flood blatantly retweeting Islamophobic Twitter feeds.

And the way the local party – its advisory group and association – handled the issue was rather shoddy. It’s not like they haven’t had experience with this sort of thing, Mr Flood is the fourth Conservative Ipswich councilor to get in trouble for offensive social media activity!

I’m beginning to think that the totally inadequate way in which this latest crisis has been handled suggests there needs to be a total change at the top of the local conservative organization – perhaps with existing structures dissolved and replaced with something again.

The posts that Mr. Flood retweeted were clearly Islamophobic. Conservative MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt described one as “reprehensible”. But the first response from the Tory high command in Ipswich was to blame Labor for highlighting the problem – and to say they would do nothing unless a formal complaint was made.

In what dimension would one think this answer was acceptable, given the nature of the material we are talking about?

To his great credit, Mr Hunt immediately saw how the problem had been reported while he was on vacation hundreds of miles out of town. I am sure it was his strong action that enabled the Ipswich Association to suspend Mr Flood three days after being alerted to his social media activity.

It must not have been easy for Mr Hunt as he is a personal friend of Mr Flood and his family – but he called me to strongly condemn the retweets and say action was needed. This required political courage.

The Ipswich Conservatives then told me that ‘our position is changing’. They then suspended Mr Flood – but couldn’t help but try Labor for having the temerity to comment on the position.

What was interesting was a comment I heard from a well-known curator from outside Ipswich who said, ‘What would the Ipswich curators have done if they had found a retweet like that one from a Labor councillor? They would have been directly on the phone for you or your colleagues!”

Like I said, this is the fourth time in five years that a conservative borough councilor has gotten into trouble with social media.

Many Tory Ipswich councilors are very keen to spark arguments on social media. Most of the time they limit themselves to avoid getting in trouble – but sometimes they seriously overstep the limit.

Privately, I told officials that they should warn and keep an eye out for these messages. My advice was ignored or forgotten.

The posts that Mr. Flood retweeted were so offensive that we were unable to publish them in full. They both started with an offensive comment – it wasn’t hidden in the middle of a 280 character epic.

Why the hell wasn’t someone in the association monitoring these messages and raising them with the executive? They must have known that Mr. Flood was one of their toughest members when using social media.

Why weren’t the retweets deleted instantly? They were still there 48 hours after my first call?

Above all, why wasn’t it obvious as soon as I sent them screenshots of the messages that they were Islamophobic? Why was there a question of not acting immediately? Why was the initial response to blame the opposition?

I have spoken to several Tories who are not members of the Ipswich Conservative Association executive who have rolled their eyes and feel that the actions of the ICA have tarnished the whole party locally.

Tom Hunt seems very unhappy with the way it was handled – and his anger clearly prompted action when it arose. But that shouldn’t have required the intervention of a vacationing MP to put the wheels in motion.

Politics in Ipswich needs a strong and decent Tory Association to support the thousands of decent Tory voters who live in the town. Unfortunately, there are none at the moment!

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