Published: 11:33, 17 July 2020
| Updated: 11:55, 17 July 2020
There were angry scenes last night after a council leader compared Black Lives Matter protests to a "lynch mob".
The drama came as Medway's Labour group unsuccessfully attempted to change the title of a Chatham car park named after Sir John Hawkins – one of the UK's first slave traders.
Speaking at the full council meeting, top Tory, Cllr Alan Jarrett, made the comments after proposing a cross-party group to review names of memorials, monuments or historic markers in the Towns.
Opposition leader Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) proposed an amendment which focused on including part of the wider community in any decisions about re-naming places, including the car park in Waterfront Way.
He said: "Having England's first slave trader having a car park named after him, shouldn't happen ever, and shouldn't happen in the 21st Century.
"I want us to be the City of Culture, but I don't think we'll win the bid by saying 'vote for Medway, we've got a racist car park'. That's not going to help us win votes to get that important accolade to come here."
He was supported by fellow Labour councillor, Harinder Mahil, who said: "I've been regularly parking in a car park named after Britain's premier slaver – this guy basically invented it for us and somewhere we decided to honour him for his efforts.
"What we've seen across the country with some of the things which have happened is almost a lynch-mob mentality..."
"It's simple enough, no need to dither or delay, take his name off. There's no excuse for that car park or any other public space to be named after John Hawkins for a second longer than the end of this motion."
No Conservative councillors commented on Cllr Maple's amendment.
Cllr Jarrett replied: "My fear is Labour will turn this into a circus, and they have a track record of doing this.
"What we've seen across the country, with some of the things which have happened, is almost a lynch-mob mentality, with some outrageous behaviour going on.
"Without any thought of what other people might want and what other parts of communities might want, and that's not what we want to see happen here in Medway."
After his amendment lost, Cllr Jarrett was urged to withdraw his use of the term lynch-mob, "given the context" of what they were debating.
He initially refused, asking whether Cllr Maple thought the refacing of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria's statue was acceptable.
He was supported by fellow Tories Gary Etheridge and Martin Potter.
Cllr Etheridge said: "Lynch mobs have always been part of this country's history, it's not particularly considered to be part of black history, and isn't an attribute of where we are within this country."
While Rainham North's Cllr Potter gave the Cambridge dictionary definition of a lynch mob before calling on the "silly virtue signalling and political game" to stop.
Labour's Cllr Naushabah Khan said she was "always disappointed" when topics of race come into council chambers, as they turn into a "strange and dark place".
She added: "Yes, lynch mobs has definitions which others can list when they find it on Google, however, it has a big place in history and has certain connotations for people who come from a certain background.
"The fact we have people asking to move on from 'virtue signalling', points exactly to the problem we will face when you set up a group of cross-party members that doesn't represent the Medway community."
Cllr Jarrett completed a U-turn by withdrawing his comment.
In the end, his original proposal was passed and a cross-party group to discuss the names of memorials, monuments and historic markers in Medway was created.
Two further attempts to change the name of the Sir John Hawkins car park – including one motion to rename it the Dame Vera Lynn Car Park – were both lost.