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Medway Council 'xenophobic' row: Councillor from Glasgow calls colleague 'ignoramous' after being asked to speak more slowly in meeting

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

A council has been embroiled in a “xenophobic” spat after a councillor admitted he could not understand a Scottish opponent.

Cllr Barry Kemp (Con) asked Cllr Alex Paterson (Lab) – originally from Glasgow – to speak more slowly during last night’s full meeting of Medway Council, leading to the two facing up afterwards.

The latter was heard shouting “ignoramus” and seen pointing his fingers towards his rival in tense scenes before the situation was defused by fellow colleagues.

Glaswegian Cllr Alex Paterson
Glaswegian Cllr Alex Paterson

The flashpoint happened after a heated discussion about the prospect of a voter ID trial scheme taking place at next year’s council elections in the Towns.

Cllr Kemp interrupted Cllr Paterson during his comments, asking: “Can you speak more slowly? I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

It is not known whether the former mayor made any reference to his opponent’s Scottish roots.

At first, it was thought the comments had been taken in jest, when Cllr Paterson responded: “I would happily speak any speed which you’re happy to keep up with.”

“I told him that he was an ignorant man and I stand by those comments..." - Cllr Alex Paterson

But after Cllr Kemp was given the chance to tell fellow councillors that he was not xenophobic at the end of the meeting – an opportunity which was not seen to have been taken – a confrontation took place.

Cllr Paterson explained why he approached his counterpart.

He said: “I went over to ask Cllr Kemp, on the basis he seemed to be having trouble following my speech in the meeting, whether he thought it was appropriate to question the diction of the mayor.

“I think most people would agree (the mayor, Cllr Steve Iles) is not the clearest speaker, yet is someone we rely on to keep proceedings going.

“His response was aggressive and he told me to stop pointing – at which point I decided I was going to tell him exactly what I thought of his remarks during the meeting.

“I told him that he was an ignorant man and I stand by those comments.

Cllr Barry Kemp
Cllr Barry Kemp

“If there’s no apology from him for blatantly xenophobic and arguably racist remarks, then there will certainly be no apology from me responding to it.”

The Rochester West representative, who won his seat in a by-election earlier this year, said no-one has had difficulty with his accent in the 18 years he has spent living in England.

He also said there have been no issues raised during his media appearances, before insisting most people from Glasgow would call him a “posh boy from East Renfrewshire”.

Cllr Kemp was quickly supported by Conservative colleagues and said he was upset by the way his opponent approached him. He also denied being a xenophobe.

"I will sleep on it and probably let it lie because I don’t think he will apologise..." - Cllr Barry Kemp

The Rainham Central representative added: “I couldn’t understand what the councillor was saying, so I asked him to speak slowly and he took exception to that.

“He came across, pointing fingers. He said he was outraged and made some very insulting remarks – I can’t remember exactly what he said, it happened so quickly.

“The fact is when he did speak slowly, I understood every word he said. I was upset with the way he approached me. I will sleep on it and probably let it lie because I don’t think he will apologise.

“I’m half-Scottish, so I can’t see there is (a xenophobic factor). Most of my relatives are Scottish, and when I go on holiday to Scotland I understand them perfectly.

“Even my uncle Jimmy in Glasgow when he has a pipe in his mouth, I can still understand him.”

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