Row over ‘sexist’ comment made in Southend Council meeting leads to formal complaints

Two formal complaints have been made about members of Southend Council after a meeting on gender neutral language descended into a chaotic argument over ‘sexist’ comments.

Details of the complaints seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service show the leader the Conservatives, Councillor Tony Cox has filed two official complaints against rival councillors for the way they responded when he claimed sexist comments were made during a meeting on Thursday.

Cllr Cox accused Cllr Beth Hooper (Lib Dem) of sexism in a heated exchange after she questioned the Tories over why they did not have a female councillor at the meeting, which focussed on adopting gender-neutral language.

During the meeting Cllr Cox said that if a man had made similar remarks they would have been “hung drawn and quartered at the end of the pier”.
Cllr Daniel Cowan (Lab) said during the meeting that Cllr Cox’s strong response was an example of “violence against women” and later Cllr Martin Terry (Ind) labelled it “extreme” on Twitter.

As a result, Cllr Cox has filed internal complaints about both councillors, claiming that he was only condemning sexist language.

Cllr Cowan said he was yet to be made aware of the complaint, but he stands by his comments.

He said: “Violence is not just physical there is bullying, intimidation, cohesive control, financial domination, social isolation – what we saw was a female councillor being shouted down and talked over. Her opinion was trashed whilst others who had voiced similar opinions said nothing.

“When I as a man said I saw an act of violence, not a single councillor raised an objection and directed it to me they did it in a written form but when confronted with difference of opinion with a woman rather than send a formal letter they called them out in the room and shouted them down.”

Cllr Terry also defended his comments, explaining that he was “reflecting the reaction of other committee members”.

He said: “Cllr Cox spoke of being hung, drawn and quartered which was way over the top and way our of order in terms of allegations. He’s taken things completely out of context.”

But Cllr Cox has hit back at the pair saying they are “delusional” and that if someone makes a sexist remark, he believes it is crucial it is challenged.

He said: “I was accused of using force, according to the dictionary definition of violence, it led to even the chair of the meeting distancing himself from the comments. If someone makes a sexist remark you need to challenge it, regardless of who it has come from.”

Cllr Hooper has defended her position, explaining that she only wish to offer “another point of view” to make sure the debate was balanced and labelled My Cox’s responses “excessive”.

She said: “Everyone is important and everyone has the right to have an opinion, that’s what gender neutral language is trying to address.

“I would like to make it clear the motion is purely for people to be able to choose how they are addressed going forward so will not have any cost implications and will only put Southend Council in line with what every other major organisation already accepts as normal.”

With the complaints now sent to Southend Council’s monitoring officer John Williams, it will be down to him to decide whether to reject the complaint or escalate it to a further investigation.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter