PRESSURE is mounting for the leader of the borough council to take action over “outrageous” comments and tweets made by the deputy mayor.

Most of the Gazette community has reacted with shock and anger after we published tweets and views from Conservative councillor Onnalee Cubit.

These included her saying it is “fair” to call Covid-19 the “Chinese virus”, despite the World Health Organisation advising against using terms to link it to China to avoid stigmatisation.

Cllr Cubitt said: "I don't see it as being offensive, I see it as being factual." 

The deputy mayor also wanted to know how many people tested positive for the virus upon entering the UK from Bangladesh, Nigeria and India, despite these countries having a much lower death toll than others.

Cllr Cubitt told the Gazette she had singled out these particular countries because they were “high risk” and had a “high infection rate”.

However, when asked what the infection rate was, she had no idea.

Civil liberties groups have warned against using terms such as 'Chinese flu' and 'Chinese virus' as it can inspire racism. 

Hate crimes against Chinese people have soared in the UK since the start of lockdown.

Police figures in May showed at least 267 offences were recorded in the first three months of the crisis.

Victims described being punched, spat at and coughed on in the street as well as being verbally abused about coronavirus after the first case was reported in China.

In Kent, in April, a retired Gurkha soldier’s car was set on fire in what authorities suspected was a coronavirus-related hate crime. 

The victim told KentOnline they were unable to leave their house to go for a walk without people saying, "Chinese, go back to your own country" or "stop eating bats".

So far, Cllr Ken Rhatigan, leader of the council, has remained tight lipped over the matter, refusing to comment on the latest developments.

When asked by the Gazette what action he intended to take, Cllr Rhatigan said: “I made a public statement on Thursday at full council, which was widely reported by the Gazette. If the situation requires it of course I am happy to react to residents’ real concerns on any matter.”

The statement made by Cllr Rhatigan at the full council meeting was in response to a tweet Cllr Cubitt had deleted, questioning whether a photograph of a man urinating by PC Keith Palmer’s memorial was ‘set up’.

Cllr Rhatigan said: “The full council will take a view when it elects the mayor at the next AGM. I note that councillors all regret things from time to time.”

He added: “Nobody supports racism, or any homophobic reaction, but I believe that the people of Basingstoke will judge us all at an election next May and we will take their view about whether people are fit to serve this borough.”

Cllr Cubitt has not said she regrets any of the other tweets, and has instead tried to justify them.

Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, who has just launched a local inquiry into racism in Basingstoke, said: “If you need an explanation for why someone has chosen to retweet or like something on a specific social media platform then you would need to ask the person concerned. I have worked with Cllr Cubitt for more than a decade and always found her to be a hard-working local representative, well known and very well respected in her local community.”

Leader of the Labour party in Basingstoke, Cllr Andrew McCormick described Cllr Cubitt’s views as “outrageous” adding: “The [Gazette] readers’ reaction speaks volumes.”

He said Cllr Cubitt, who is set to become borough mayor next year, had attempted to “defend the indefensible” adding: “While I’m a big believer in free speech, that doesn’t extend to the right to promote racist views or anti-Chinese conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus (which, it is arguable, have an underlying racial tone to them.”

He accused the Conservative party of failing to take action, adding: “While Keir Starmer was quick to act dismissing Rebecca Long-Bailey, Boris is a lot more tolerant of things like Dominic Cummings and Robert Jenrick breaching lockdown rules, and now this thing with Robert Jenrick, the Tower Hamlets planning application, and the £12k donation.
Boris also has his own past on racism, viz "watermelon smiles" and "letterboxes".

“And to me that's part of the problem. If the Prime Minister backs people even when they've obviously done something outrageous, or indulges in casual racist remarks himself, we can't expect the local Tories to behave any differently.

“I doubt if we'll see Onnalee Cubitt removed as Deputy Mayor, such things are without precedent, although if it went to a vote on the floor of the council the Tories are a minority at the moment. Things might come to a head in May 2021 when the "affirmation" of the Deputy as the new Mayor takes place.”