Published: 17:41, 14 July 2019
| Updated: 17:55, 14 July 2019
A councillor has refused to apologise for making an alleged sexist remark in a public meeting where he compared bees to "pin up girls".
Kent county councillor Sean Holden's conduct was questioned by one of his colleagues, Cllr Karen Constantine, when he made the "pin up girls" comment as part of a pre-written speech about a new KCC environment campaign yesterday.
Cllr Constantine, of Ramsgate, said she was "disgusted" to hear the Conservative councillor's alleged sexist comment broadcast in front of more than 70 elected members in the Maidstone County Hall chamber.
Following the meeting, Cllr Holden said he rejects the Labour councillor's "phoney political correctness" while Cllr Constantine has called on KCC to implement "mandatory equalities training" for all elected members on the county council following Cllr Holden's comments.
The row between the two Kent county councillors came during a discussion about the county council's new campaign, Kent's Plan Bee, a scheme set up to reverse the decline of pollinators, such as bees, hover flies and butterflies, across the county.
Cllr Holden, spearheading the initiative, was explaining why he chose the name, Kent's Plan Bee, and said: "Bees are the pin up girls (for this campaign) because Kent's Plan Hoverfly didn't quite do it."
His colleague, Cllr Constantine, was shocked by the comment and hit back at Cllr Holden, saying: "I would like to challenge Cllr Holden on his point of everyday sexism which, I'm afraid, I'm disgusted to hear in this chamber."
The Thanet councillor's criticism of Cllr Holden was met with groans from several other elected members who were sitting in the chamber as she continued her tirade.
She said: "I think it's quite wrong to talk about bees as the pin up girls of the poster world and I would like Cllr Holden to tell me what he considers the beefcake is in the pollinator world?"
Cllr Holden did not respond to Cllr Constantine's remarks during the meeting and departed the meeting prior to its conclusion.
The chair of the meeting, Cllr Ann Allen, was the only member to directly respond to the Cllr Constantine's criticism in the chamber.
Cllr Allen said: "I was going to make a flippant remark but we won't drone on about all this. We won't have any more bee jokes now."
She then told her colleagues to "settle down" before elected members continued their discussion about the environmental initiative.
After the meeting, Cllr Holden said he rejected his Labour colleague's "phony political correctness" and labelled it as "manufactured left wing indignation".
"That isn't just sexist, it's bizarre..." Cllr Constantine
The Cranbrook councillor said he has spent his whole life campaigning for equality and gay rights, including moving motions at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to stop the practice of identifying women councillors by their marital status and witnessing a "protest" gay marriage.
Speaking about his comment in the chamber, the former journalist said: "Calling bees the pin up girls for the pollinator plan, the pollinator bees being all female, was a light metaphor of marketing practices.
"Ms Constantine's pompous intervention was entirely against the spirit of the debate about this crucial environmental policy, which I began on my own six years ago and have seen through the adoption as official county policy.
"Ms Constantine doesn't know me or my record, she gave me no credit for the universally applauded Plan Bee and instead chose to make her holier-than-thou claim about sexism with manufactured left wing indignation.
"It seems she has no understanding of the real issues of equality but I'd be quite happy to give her some instruction."
Cllr Constantine has said Cllr Holden's track record should not exonerate him and described his comments as "crass".
The Thanet councillor, who has experience working as a national trade union official for equality, said: "Cllr Holden's subsequent response is revealing in his indignation.
"What he said was in fact a casual example of 'everyday sexism'. Throw away comments of this ilk perpetuate a narrative of sexualising women even when they're from a different species.
"That isn't just sexist, it's bizarre. Having a track record of supporting equality is laudable but it doesn't mean a person can then display sexist behaviour."
Out of the 81 elected members at Kent County Council, 21 of them are female.
Cllr Constantine said she thought pin up girls was a sexist stereotype of a bygone era of inequality and was "disappointed" to see Cllr Holden resort to such "sexist comparisons".
She added: "Cllr Holden had resorted to use such sexist comparisons so casually in his otherwise excellent and informative presentation.
"I did so with humour, not malice. Without any wish to malign him, I stand by my remark."