A Brighton councillor and cabinet member has resisted calls for his resignation and apologised for making what was intended as a light-hearted remark about rape.
Green councillor Ben Duncan said that he would not be stepping down as the council’s cabinet member for community safety over the matter.
He faced calls for his removal from two senior Labour councillors – the party’s leader in Brighton and Hove, Gill Mitchell, and its community safety spokesman Warren Morgan.
But he was defended by Conservative councillor Graham Cox who previously served as a senior police officer.
Councillor Duncan tweeted a remark which was described by his party leader Councillor Bill Randall as “in bad taste”.
The offending tweet came after Councillor Duncan took part in an online exchange after blogging about changes in the law relating to cannabis cafés in the Netherlands.
On his Kemptown Ben blog on Saturday (28 April) he asked: “Is it time for Brighton, the liberal, tolerant, tourist capital of Europe, to legalise the cannabis café?”
And he concluded: “I expect to be misunderstood so I predict the following headline soon: Green councillor calls for Brighton to be the pot capital of Europe.”
In the ensuing exchange on Twitter he was asked whether he smoked cannabis himself and tweeted: “I only smoke weed when I’m murdering, raping and looting!”
Today (Monday 30 April) he said: “I apologise unreservedly for mentioning rape in what was meant to be a light-hearted ironic tweet.
“I understand that this may have caused distress and I’m sorry.
“On the topic of my blog about cannabis cafés the wording is clear that I was not calling for ‘coffee shops’ to open in Brighton but was simply joining the current debate about drug decriminalisation by satirically asking whether Brighton is as liberal as Amsterdam used to be.
“I’m sorry if anyone misunderstood my intention.”
Councillor Bill Randall, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “I’m pleased that Ben has apologised for his remarks about rape as they were undoubtedly in bad taste.
“Rape simply is not a joking matter even when the joke is intended to be ironic or satirical.
“But opposition councillors who’ve called for his removal are being opportunistic.
“Ben has done a great deal of good work as a councillor, particularly for the neighbourhoods and communities of Brighton and Hove, and it is wrong to take advantage of his momentary lapse of judgment.”
Yesterday (Sunday 29 April) Labour said: “Over the weekend Councillor Ben Duncan, who is the current Green cabinet member for policing and community safety, has been the subject of much attention after further alarming comments on the social media site Twitter.
“His call for the public to join the ‘Smash EDO’ demonstration on the weekend of the Queen’s Jubilee has been met with anger by local businesses who are already suffering from massive Green-imposed parking charge increases and who worry that the opportunity to bring in much-needed cash will be thwarted as the public stay away due to his comments.
“He then went on to outline how the city could benefit from having licensed cannabis cafés which, he claims, would boost tourism, which is presumably his economic plan to make up the shortfall in tourists being driven away from the city after the Green administration hiked parking fees.
“But the final straw came when he was challenged to say if he himself smoked cannabis. His response – ‘I only smoke cannabis when murdering, raping and looting’ – is totally unacceptable.
“These comments are at best irresponsible and at worst highly offensive to anyone who has suffered from rape.”
Councillor Mitchell, leader of the council’s opposition Labour group, said: “This is the latest in a series of irresponsible comments from a senior Green councillor.
“Ben Duncan should think about the wider effect of his statements. For him to make light of the serious crime of rape in this way is plain wrong.
“I call on Councillor Bill Randall, the current leader of the council, and Jason Kitcat, the next leader, to remove Councillor Duncan from any position of responsibility.”
Councillor Morgan added: “It is not appropriate for Councillor Duncan to hold responsibilities for crime and community safety and be the city’s representative on Sussex Police Authority when he advocates participation in demonstrations which have in the past become violent, when he says the sale of cannabis is a potential benefit to the city’s economy and when he makes light of the serious crime of rape.”
One of Councillor Duncan’s political opponents, the Conservative councillor Graham Cox, tweeted in defence of his Green opponent: “I do not agree with you on drug liberalisation. But think you should be free to express your views without calls for sack.”
Labour previously criticised Councillor Duncan for a “four-letter pasty rant” on Twitter a few days after the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne presented his budget in March.
The Queen’s Park councillor later blogged: “It was meant as a humorous way of expressing disappointment that so much media coverage of last week’s disastrous budget was about pasties.”
One political insider said yesterday said: “The Labour group seems to be sharpening up its act.
“The local party’s recently undergone a transformation. It’s now got just one party organisation for the whole of Brighton and Hove even though there are three parliamentary seats.
“It needs to be careful though. Labour’s got its own jokers like Brian Fitch.
“While it can help to have a certain gravitas in local politics, it would be a crying shame if we were left with a uniform drabness and no one with a sense of humour or a sense of irony.
“Councillor Duncan tries to be thought-provoking and humorous on his blog but there’s a danger that his posts could occasionally come across as tasteless.
“And there’s a danger that his political rivals will keep chipping away until he seems more of a liability than an asset to his party.
“It’s a good illustration of the way free speech comes at a price, particularly when you aspire to hold office.”
Councillor Duncan’s post is being abolished next month (May) as the council disbands its cabinet and switches back to making decisions by committees. He is expected to become chairman of the licensing committee.