A Tory council vice-chairman is facing calls to resign after he made a racist remark during a public meeting – telling colleagues: “That’s dealt with the little n***o in the woodpile.”
Councillor Ian Stokes left members of South Kesteven District Council gobsmacked when he made the comment while chairing a committee on Wednesday (20/10).
After hearing representations from another councillor, he told the council chamber: “Well, that’s dealt with that little n***o in the woodpile, so to speak.”
His remark sparked outrage among fellow politicians and local residents who have branded his actions “abhorrent” and “deeply offensive.”
Some have called for Cllr Stokes – who is due to become chairman of the council next year – to resign with immediate effect.
Yvette Diaz-Munoz, of Stamford Anti-Racism Group, said: “The expression he used is a racial slur and should never be used. He should resign.
“In 2017 when Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris used the same expression she was suspended from the party.
“The term is believed to have its roots in the ‘Underground Railroad’ route to freedom used by those who had been enslaved and who were fugitives in the south of the United States in the mid-19th Century and referred to hiding in woodstacks outside houses and in pulpwood in railway carriages.
“The term is dehumanising. You only need to watch films like 12 Years a Slave to see how it is used as a weapon to treat black people as inferior.
“In short it is deeply offensive and I was frankly shocked to hear that someone in such a position of responsibility could even think it appropriate to use such a term.”
Local resident George Naylor, 67, was watching the live Youtube stream of the meeting when the comment was made about half an hour in.
The granddad-of-two, of Grantham, Lincs., said: “I could not believe what I was hearing – he said it so flippantly and even worse nobody batted an eyelid at the time.
“His comments were abhorrent in this day and age, I don’t want somebody capable of those remarks representing my town and he should step down.”
Other council colleagues have lodged a formal complaint to the monitoring officer about the remarks made during the governance and audit committee meeting.
Independent councillor Ashley Baxter, who represents Market and West Deeping, said: “When I heard Cllr Stokes say those words, I thought surely I haven’t heard that correctly.
“Surely he wouldn’t have said that as chairman of a public meeting and as vice-chairman of the council – but he did.
“To use such archaic, racist language is totally unacceptable.”
District councillor Amanda Wheeler (Lib Dem aligned with Ind), who is a supporter of Stamford Anti-Racism Group, said she was contacted about the incident.
She added: “It is a year since we passed an anti-racism motion at South Kesteven District Council, which was unanimously supported.
“One aspect of that motion was that councillors undergo diversity training.
“Had Cllr Ian Stokes attended that training he would know full-well that using offensive language is not acceptable behaviour.
“I am appalled, shocked and saddened that not only was he comfortable saying this in the chamber, but that no one challenged him publicly.
“It’s not acceptable. It’s never acceptable.
“I call on Ian Stokes to apologise for his unacceptable use of language and to attend the diversity training he clearly needs.”
Cllr Stokes, who represents Peascliffe and Ridgeway ward near Grantham, has since apologised for his comments.
He said: “I unreservedly apologise for the wording I used in today’s governance and audit meeting, the phase was completely unacceptable and I withdraw this remark.
“It was said accidentally and for that I am truly and deeply sorry for any offence that I have caused to anyone.”
Councillor Kelham Cooke, leader of the council, said: “As a Conservative group and as a district council we take any form of racism incredibly seriously, especially when remarks are made that could cause serious offence.
“As a Conservative administration we consider the use of this type of language by any member completely unacceptable.
“It is right that Coun Ian Stokes has formally apologised and withdrawn the remark he made at the committee meeting.”